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Iraqi president defends Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia


President Barham Salih of Iraq defended President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia last week, citing the Saudi royal family’s progress in modernizing the nation.

“The Saudi government at the moment is engaged in a significant program of modernization that needs to be watched closely and needs to be appreciated for its implications for the wider neighborhood,” Salih said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

Salih commended the crown prince for taking on “extremist elements” in his kingdom.

Biden’s trip has come under fire in the United States from both the left and the right, particularly given the widely seen image of Biden exchanging a fist bump Friday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The crown prince has been widely condemned for his record on human rights and his role in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

Salih looked at it in practical terms.

“Look, at the end of the day, nations act upon their interest,” he told Zakaria.

Salih was elected president in 2018. Iraq’s parliament elects its president, but efforts to hold a new election this year have repeatedly failed, due to boycotts by members of parliament. “Democracy by nature is messy and difficult,” he said.

Salih said he still had hopes that democracy, established after the dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled by international forces in 2003, would prevail.

“We have not been able to bring to a closure and establish a new government,” Salih said. “Iraqi political actors have been engaged in all kinds of legal maneuvering through our Supreme Court.”

“It is disappointing that we have not been able to bring it to a closure but we are trying hard. We’re not fighting it in the streets; we’re fighting it through the legal parliamentary system that we have,” he said.

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