Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi murder report | Daily News

Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi murder report

Friends of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi hold posters bearing his picture on the second anniversary of his killing in October 2020.
Friends of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi hold posters bearing his picture on the second anniversary of his killing in October 2020.

US: US President Joe Biden held a long-delayed first phone call Thursday with Saudi King Salman ahead of an imminent US intelligence report expected to link the Arab kingdom’s powerful crown prince to the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Biden kept the king waiting in his long list of calls to US allies after being sworn in five weeks ago.

And when he did finally reach out to the Saudis, it was pointedly to the king and not the expected successor Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly known as MBS.

The telephone diplomacy was all part of what the White House is calling a reset in relations in the wake of Khashoggi’s horrific 2018 murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

A US intelligence report on the incident, in which Khashoggi is believed to have been killed and then chopped into pieces, is being made public “soon,” the White House says.

It is expected to state that the crown prince in some capacity was connected to the killing, which involved a whole squad of Saudi agents positioned at the consulate before Khashoggi visited.

Khashoggi, a Saudi national who wrote for The Washington Post and was a US resident, had been an outspoken critic of the young prince.

The White House said that Biden and the 85-year-old king emphasized the countries’ security ties and “the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups.”

However, in a shift from the Donald Trump era, Biden also “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.”

The Saudi state news agency said in its readout that the king and Biden stressed “the depth of the relationship between the two countries” and discussed Iran’s “destabilizing activities and its support for terrorist groups” in the region.

With its vast oil reserves and rivalry with Iran, Saudi Arabia is also a vital strategic ally. A reminder of shared US and Saudi interests in the region came Thursday when the US military struck at facilities they said were being used by Iran-backed forces in Syria.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday had his own telephone call with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan.

They “discussed the importance of Saudi progress on human rights, including through legal and judicial reforms,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Prince Mohammed has said he accepts Saudi Arabia’s overall responsibility in Khashoggi’s killing but denies a personal link.

In Saudi Arabia, five people were handed death sentences over the murder. But a Saudi court in September overturned them while giving jail terms of up to 20 years to eight unnamed defendants following secretive legal proceedings.

Human rights advocates called the judicial process a whitewash aimed at blaming the hit men while not touching the mastermind. - AFP