Joe Biden to phone Saudi King Salman ahead of Jamal Khashoggi report

President Joe Biden plans to call the king of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, ahead of the public release of an intelligence report on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – which could come out as soon as Thursday – is expected to be damaging to Saudi Arabia and imply Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the murder. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she did not have any information on the timing of the call. 

She said she ‘expect that to happen soon.’

‘We’re still in the process of scheduling when that will happen,’ Psaki said at her press briefing on Wednesday.

She declined to provide any specifics about the upcoming conversation.

‘I’m not going to preview his call with the king. Obviously, they’ll cover a range of topics, and when we have concluded that call I’m sure we’ll provide a by a readout,’ Paski said.

It would be the first conversation between Biden as president and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz. 

The 85-year-old king is the head of government but the crown prince, his heir, is seen as the power behind the throne.  

Bin Salman has denied involvement in the October 2018 murder of Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who wrote columns critical of MBS, as the crown prince as known. MBS did accept responsibility for the assassination as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. 

President Joe Biden plans to call Saudi King Salman on Wednesday ahead of expected release on Thursday of intelligence report on the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi

The Biden administration said last week it would recalibrate relations with Saudi Arabia and that Biden would speak with the 85-year-old King Salman bin Abdulaziz (above left) instead of his heir - a change in policy from the Trump administration

The Biden administration said last week it would recalibrate relations with Saudi Arabia and that Biden would speak with the 85-year-old King Salman bin Abdulaziz (above left) instead of his heir – a change in policy from the Trump administration

The call is expected to cover a range of topics. And it comes after the White House last week announced a recalibration of American relations with Saudi Arabia.

‘We’ve made clear from the beginning that we’re going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

She said part of that recalibration would include Biden speaking to the Saudi king, instead of MBS – a marked change in policy from the Trump administration.

‘Part of that is going back to engagement counterpart to counterpart, the president’s counterpart is King Salman and I expect that, at an appropriate time, he would have a conversation with him,’ Psaki said.

Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia in September 2017 to live in self-imposed exile. He was writing columns critical of the Saudi government – including of both King Salman and MBS – for The Washington Post. 

In October 2018, Khashoggi visited the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, to pick up the paperwork required for his marriage to a Turkish citizen. He was never seen leaving.

According to reports, while there he was drugged, killed and dismembered by a team of assassins sent in from Saudi Arabia.

The Biden administration is shifting America’s relationship with Riyadh after Trump made the U.S.’s relationship with the Saudis a priority, making his first trip abroad in 2017 to Riyadh. 

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was close to MBS, who became next in line to the throne in June 2017 after a power struggle ousted a rival.

Kushner’s close relationship with him – the two were said to text and communicate via apps – raised eyebrows due to its taking place outside of diplomatic channels, Kushner’s lack of foreign policy experience and MBS’ reputation as a despot. 

The crown prince has been accused of the torture of human rights activists; the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen which has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and famine; and the arrest of members of the Saudi royal family in November 2017 where he imprisoned several of his royal cousins in a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyad.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Jamal Khashoggi

President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to release an unclassified report as early as next week that concludes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) ordered the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (right)

The brutal Khashoggi killing didn’t change U.S.-Saudi relations under President Trump.

In Bob Woodward’s book ‘Fear,’ the veteran Washington Post journalist wrote that Trump had said, ‘I saved his a**,’ about MBS.  

‘I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop,’ Trump said.   

Trump saw the relationship with Saudi Arabia in dollar figures, warning lawmakers that the Saudis could go into business with Russia instead. In May 2019, Trump also bypassed Congress allowing the Saudis to buy $8 billion in arms. 

Trump took MBS’ denial at face value, the Woodward book indicated.

‘He will always say that he didn’t do it. He says that to everybody, and frankly I’m happy that he says that. But he will say that to you, he will say that to Congress, and he will say that to everybody. He’s never said he did it,’ Trump told Woodward.

Woodward asked if Trump believed that he ordered Khashoggi’s killing. 

‘No he says he didn’t do it,’ the then president replied. ‘He says very strongly that he didn’t do it.’

Trump also ignored a law passed in early 2019 that instructed his administration to give Congress an unclassified intelligence report with ‘a determination and evidence with respect to the advance knowledge and role of any current or former official of Saudi Arabia … over the directing, ordering or tampering of evidence in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.’   

In February of last year the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told congressional leaders it was ‘unable to provide additional information … at an unclassified level,’ instead sending them a copy of the classified CIA report.   

In July, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe reiterated to lawmakers that he would not be releasing an unclassified report because ‘the disclosure of additional details surrounding Mr. Khashoggi’s murder would undermine U.S. intelligence sources and methods.’  

He also said, ‘I have determined that there is only a marginal ‘public interest’ argument for this declassification.’

But the Biden administration vowed to release the document. 

During her confirmation, Biden’s nominee to head the DNI, Avril Haines, said it would happen.

‘Yes, senator. Actually, we’ll follow the law,’ she said when asked about the report’s release. 

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