ATHENS (AFP) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Greece on Tuesday (July 26) and is due to head to France later in the week, his first Europe trip since the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi’s killing and dismemberment by Saudi agents in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in October 2018 brought the powerful crown prince international condemnation.
Prince Mohammed will meet with the leaders of both France and Greece “to discuss bilateral relations and ways to enhance them in various fields,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing a statement from the royal court.
The trip comes less than two weeks after US President Joe Biden visited the Saudi city of Jeddah for a summit of Arab leaders and met one-on-one with Prince Mohammed, greeting him with a fist bump.
That move sealed Biden’s retreat from a presidential election campaign pledge to turn the kingdom into a “pariah” over the Khashoggi affair and wider human rights controversies.
US intelligence agencies determined that Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, had “approved” the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death, though Riyadh denies this, blaming rogue operatives.
Accompanied by three ministers and a large business delegation, Prince Mohammed held talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Athens, footage broadcast live by Greece’s ERT public television showed.
At the start of the meeting, Prince Mohammed said the two countries would finalise a series of bilateral projects, including the installation of an electricity cable linking Saudi Arabia to Greece which will provide Europe “with much cheaper energy”, he said.
On Wednesday, agreements on maritime transport, energy, defence technology among other things are due to be signed, according to a statement by the Greek foreign ministry.
Prince Mohammed’s stay in Europe represents a “highly symbolic move past his post-Khashoggi isolation”, said Kristian Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice University.
“While there has not been any formal coordination of policy in the ‘West’ against Mohammed bin Salman since 2018, the fact is that he has not visited any European or North American country since Khashoggi’s killing,” Ulrichsen said.
Prince Mohammed has also received a recent boost from Turkish President Erdogan, who visited Saudi Arabia in April, then welcomed Prince Mohammed in Ankara in June.
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