BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – All eyes were on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Group of 20 summit on Friday as he made his first major overseas appearance since the killing of a dissident journalist in his country’s consulate in Istanbul.
Would he be welcomed warmly? Or shunned after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded he ordered the grisly slaying of Jamal Khashoggi, which his country denies? So far, it’s been a mixed bag.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and bin Salman shared a chummy, enthusiastic greeting, beaming widely and clasping hands in something of a cross between a handshake and a high-five. The crown prince patted Putin’s hand three times for emphasis as the two leaders took their seats next to each other.
Putin and bin Salman are among the two most controversial figures at the summit in Buenos Aires, having both come under international criticism recently, and they seemed to bond over the shared experience. In Putin’s case, it was about his country’s weekend seizure of Ukrainian ships and their crews near Crimea.
However, French President Emmanuel Macron took a cooler, more confrontational stance when he came face-to-face with the Saudi crown prince.
In a seemingly awkward and tense exchange, Macron pressed bin Salman on the Khashoggi investigation and the Saudi-backed war in Yemen.
Bin Salman told Macron not to worry, but Macron replied, “I am worried.”
An official in Macron’s office said the exchange captured on video and transcripts circulating on social media “show well the president’s firm stance.”
She did not question the authenticity of the transcripts, which included Macron saying to the prince, “You never listen to me,” ”Because I told you …” and “I am a man of my word.”
Another French official said Macron confronted bin Salman as soon as he saw him enter, calculating that it was better to address his concerns than to ignore them or shun the prince.
Both officials spoke on condition they not be named in line with standard French government policy.
U.S. President Donald Trump has made it clear that he doesn’t want to jeopardize the longstanding relationship between Washington and Riyadh.
Asked if he had talked to bin Salman on Friday, Trump replied: “We had no discussion. We might, but we had none.”
A senior White House official said the two exchanged pleasantries.
Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya posted video on Twitter showing a cordial handshake between bin Salman and Chinese President Xi Jinping as the two held a bilateral meeting.
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.