US President Joe Biden spoke with Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Thursday (Feb 25) for the first time since taking office, ahead of the expected release of a US report critical of the the kingdom's role in the death of Jamal Khashoggi.
A White House readout of the call made no mention of the killing or the report.
A leading United Nations expert says the worldwide community needs to take steps against Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince, who is reportedly implicated in a pending US intelligence report on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The 35-year-old Prince Mohammed had laparoscopic surgery at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in the morning.
"MBS told "60 Minutes" that the murder was a 'heinous crime", adding that he took "full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government".
In its statement on the call between the United States president and the Saudi king, the White House did not make any reference to points of contention between Riyadh and Washington, including Khashoggi and halting U.S. support for the war in Yemen.
The US president stressed the importance of human rights and vowed to make the relationship between the two countries stronger and more transparent. The White House would say little about the carefully sequenced set of events, other than that no conversation between the two men had yet been scheduled - though clearly one was in the works. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he understood the administration to be considering new sanctions to accompany release of the report.
"This is from the United States, so it carries weight", Harb told MEE.
It is not clear whether Biden would be opposed to having the crown prince in the room for his call with King Salman.
"Joe Biden can not let this thing go", Harb said.
The journalist was lured to the consulate in Istanbul and was killed by a team of high-level Saudi operatives who dismembered his body. Saudi authorities were increasing their surveillance and attempts to silence dissidents outside the country, too.
Following global pressure, Saudi Arabia eventually admitted that Khashoggi was killed by the intelligence operatives but argued that the killing was the result of an extradition operation that went wrong.
A demonstrator holds a poster picturing Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 25, 2018, three weeks after his murder. The focus has been on who ordered the killing.
"He will speak out when there are human rights abuses, about the lack of freedom of speech, or the lack of freedom of media and expression", Psaki said. They're also seeking the disclosure of other records related to Khashoggi, including the full Central Intelligence Agency report and a tape recording of the murder. Despite requests from human rights groups and lawmakers, the Trump administration did not release a declassified version of the report.
U.S. intelligence findings are coming out more than two years after Khashoggi walked hand-in-hand with his fiancee to the Saudi consulate in Turkey. The White House said Biden was sending a signal by insisting that he would deal only with the king, in leader-to-leader conversations. The US administration had reaffirmed Washington's commitment to the kingdom's security.
A combination picture shows Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Osaka, Japan June 29, 2019 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem February 9, 2020.
And Secretary of State Tony Blinken has been in regular contact with Saudi officials.
"Targeted sanctions against his assets overseas is an important step towards holding him to account". His secretary of state, Michael Pompeo, said the US had "no direct evidence" linking the prince to the murder and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner maintained a close working relationship with him.