President Donald Trump did have an encounter with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the G20 on Friday but the White House said the two only ‘exchanged pleasantries.’
Cameras at the summit caught the president talking with the prince during a luncheon – after Trump gave MBS the side-eye during the leaders’ family photo earlier in the day.
A White House official said the president and the prince did ‘exchange pleasantries’ after the leaders met after they had their photo taken.
President Donald Trump did have an encounter with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the G20 on Friday as first daughter Ivanka Trump looked on
Earlier in the day President Trump side-eyed Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Saudi prince at a family photo event
‘They exchanged pleasantries at the leaders session as he did with nearly every leader in attendance,’ a senior White House official said on background.
But the president said he did not talk to the prince, who faces international condemnation for his role in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
‘We had no discussion. We might, but we had none,’ he said during a photo opportunity with Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe of Japan and Narendra Modi of India.
Camera footage from the luncheon event shows Trump with the prince as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and first daughter Ivanka Trump look on.
Trump had said before he arrived in Argentina that he was willing to talk with MBS but it wasn’t on his schedule.
Large gatherings of world leaders often contain ‘pull asides’ – a State Department term for informal, unscheduled talks between world leaders.
They can often happen at events like luncheons.
And later in the day the president was asked if he would exchange pleasantries with another controversial leader at the G20: Vladimir Putin after a White House official said there would be no pull-aside with the Russian president.
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Not particularly. I don’t know.’
But there will be plenty of opportunities for all the leaders to bump into each other over the next two days, including Friday night’s cultural event and dinner at the Teatro Colon.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was part of the conversation with the prince, the president and Ivanka Trump
Trump, in the back center, can be seen with the prince and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
The White House said Trump and the prince ‘exchanged pleasantries’
The prince and Putin exchanged high fives when they sat next to each other at a luncheon
Trump said last week he was opening to sitting down with MBS – the crown prince is known by his initials – at the G20 summit after he repeatedly defended the prince against allegations MBS ordered Khashoggi’s murder.
And he repeated that option to reporters on Thursday.
‘It just wasn’t set up,’ the president said when asked if the two would talk. ‘I would have met with it but we didn’t set that up.’
The president has repeatedly defended Saudi Arabia as a ‘strong ally’ who has invested billions of dollars into the United States.
Trump said on Thanksgiving Day that the CIA has not ‘concluded’ the Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder.
‘Whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently,’ Trump said of the prince to reporters after he spoke on the phone with U.S. troops. ‘The CIA doesn’t say they did it. They do point out certain things, and in pointing out those things, you can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn’t.’
‘The CIA points it both ways. And as I said, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. I will say very strongly that it’s a very important ally,’ he noted of the oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
Trump cancelled his meeting with Putin on his way down to Buenos Aires.
Trump did not speak to Putin or the prince during a ‘family’ photo at the G20
The president has met with autocrats before but he’s faced criticism for his willingness to speak with Putin and the prince at the summit
Putin and MBS – the crown prince is known by his initials – are in the international dog house: Putin for Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian vessels; MBS for ordering the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The president has met with autocrats before but he’s faced criticism for his willingness to speak with Putin and the prince at the summit, which comes as the president faces political problems back home in the wake of a new guilty plea from his former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
The president, during a bilateral meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, told the press his meeting with Putin was cancelled because of Russia’s actions against the Ukraine.
‘We don’t like what happened. We don’t like that,’ he said, adding ‘the basis with what took place in respect to the ships… that is the sole reason’ for the cancellation.
The president’s indifference aside, Putin and the prince greeted each other enthusiastically at the G20, smiling broadly and exchanging a high-five at the leader luncheon, where they sat beside one another.