WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden spoke with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Thursday ahead of the public release of a much-anticipated declassified intelligence report about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Biden stressed the importance of human rights and vowed to make the relationship between the two countries stronger and more transparent, the White House said, and “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.” The two leaders also discussed the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against attacks by Iran-aligned groups, according to the White House.
A release of the U.S. intelligence report on the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is anticipated sometime after the call, according to a person familiar with the issue who spoke to Reuters. The release also was delayed as the crown prince, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, underwent surgery earlier this week, the person said.
Saudi state news agency (SPA) reported “The King stressed in the call with President Biden the deep ties between the two countries and the importance of boosting partnership to serve mutual interests and achieve regional and international security and stability.”
The report is a declassified version of a top-secret assessment that sources say singles out the king’s son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for approving the murder of Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
“The contact with the Saudis is very important,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Khashoggi, who wrote Washington Post columns critical of the crown prince’s policies, had been a U.S. resident.
The release of the declassified report on his death – mandated by a 2019 defense bill – is part of Biden’s recalibration of U.S.-Saudi relations in part over Khashoggi’s murder.
But Biden has made clear that he wants to maintain strong ties with one of Washington’s closest Arab allies.
“Our administration is focused on recalibrating the relationship,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a briefing ahead of the call. “And certainly there are areas where we will express concerns and leave open the option of accountability.”
“There are also areas where we will continue to work with Saudi Arabia given the threats they face in the region,” she added in an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia’s main rival and U.S. foe, Iran.
“There are a range of actions that are on the table” regarding Saudi Arabia,” Psaki said.
Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi mission. There, he was killed by a team of Saudi operatives, linked to the crown prince, who dismembered his body. It has never been found.
Saudi Arabia called Khashoggi’s death a “rogue” extradition operation gone awry, but denied the crown prince was involved.
Five people were convicted of the murder and given the death penalty in a 2019 trial, but their sentences were commuted to 20 years in jail after Khashoggi’s family forgave them. Three other received sentences totaling 24 years.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a call on Thursday with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al Saud and “discussed the importance of Saudi progress on human rights,” the State Department said.
They also discussed “joint efforts to bolster” Saudi defenses, and cooperation on ending the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is backing the government against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Readout of President Biden’s call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salamin
President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke today with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia to address the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Together they discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups.
The President noted positively the recent release of several Saudi-American activists and Ms. Loujain al-Hathloul from custody, and affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law. The President told King Salman he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible. The two leaders affirmed the historic nature of the relationship and agreed to work together on mutual issues of concern and interest.
Reuters contributed to this report.