Lost in the hullaballoo regarding WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release from Russian prison is a little report that should be raising eyebrows: Saudi Arabia may have played a role in her release.
According to Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed “led mediation efforts” to secure Griner’s release in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The two nations made the claim in a joint statement.
“The [foreign] ministries said the success of the mediation efforts was a reflection of the mutual and solid friendship between their two countries and the United States and Russia,” the statement said.
Not to get too jingoistic here, but having an apparently “solid friendship” with Russia and Saudi Arabia is not the best look for America.
Another point of consternation? “The important role played by the leaderships of the two brotherly countries in promoting dialogue between all parties,” as the statement put it.
No matter how you cut that statement, it makes President Joe Biden and his administration look incredibly weak. The president of the United States of America couldn’t get a dialogue going with another power until… Saudi Arabia and the UAE jumped in?
Say what you will about former President Donald Trump (who made his feelings about Biden’s wheeling and dealing very clear), but it’s hard to imagine the fiery former president capitulating to a deal that didn’t include detained Marine veteran Paul Whelan, nor would he need Middle Eastern countries to help broker the agreement.
“The UAE and Saudi Arabian foreign ministries expressed the thanks of their respective governments to the governments of the US and Russia for their cooperation and response, and for the joint mediation efforts made by the leaderships of the two countries,” the statement said.
Look, there’s just no way around it: Biden’s diplomatic “skills” may have opened the door for other countries to take credit.
But there’s another salacious element to all of this since the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are interlocked on a couple key issues.
It was just last month that a subtle title change for bin Salman, to “prime minister,” effectively stopped the Biden administration from pursuing a lawsuit against him over the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
To be clear, there’s absolutely zero evidence that the Khashoggi lawsuit played any role in the Griner deal, but the timing of it all is certainly suspicious.
Additionally, as Reuters noted, Saudi Arabia had already notched a “diplomatic victory” in September by negotiating the release of foreign fighters captured in Ukraine.
Worth noting, Biden is also in the midst of a panhandling situation with Saudi Arabia, effectively “begging” the Middle Eastern power to help with ongoing oil supply issues in America.
Again, there is no evidence that any of this is connected. But it’s still astoundingly bad optics for an administration that can seldom afford it.
Only adding to the speculation, White House press secretary Karrine Jean-Pierre denied that Saudi Arabia had anything to do with the actual negotiations, but said Saudi Arabia did raise the issue with Russia.
Karine Jean-Pierre denies that Saudi Arabia was involved in Brittney Griner release negotiations. pic.twitter.com/YkyyGSR05N
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) December 8, 2022
Ironically enough, Jean-Pierre’s claim that it was “only” Russia and the U.S. at the negotiating table only hurts those already poor optics, given that Whelan is still rotting away in a Russian gulag somewhere.
Ultimately, however, what actually happened is almost irrelevant. And frankly, the general population may never know.
But it’s a huge problem for the U.S. to even appear this weak, particularly when it comes to international crises like this.
The court of public opinion matters. And in this case, for the public to even think or assume that Saudi Arabia helped broker this deal is a massive loss for the Biden administration.
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