Biden holds talks with Saudi king ahead of Khashoggi report

In this file photo taken on October 02, 2020 friends of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi hold posters bearing his picture as they attend an event marking the second-year anniversary of his assassination in front of Saudi Arabia Istanbul Consulate. (Photo by AFP)

US President Joe Biden on Thursday had a telephonic conversation with Saudi Arabia’s ruler King Salman, as Washington seeks to “recalibrate” its policy toward the kingdom.

During the talk, the first between the two leaders, Biden “affirmed the importance” the US “places on universal human rights and the rule of law”, the White House statement said, suggesting that the issue of human rights abuses in the country figured in their discussion.

The two sides, the statement added, also discussed regional security, including the protracted war in Yemen, weeks after the new US administration announced end to US support for Saudi-led offensives in the war-torn country.

Interestingly, the call came as the new US administration prepares to unveil an unclassified report into the 2018 murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The statement had no mention of Khashoggi, and it is not known whether the two leaders discussed the forthcoming report into the journalist’s murder.

But, the White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday that there were areas where the US would “express concerns and leave open the option of accountability”.

The much-anticipated report is expected to implicate the 85-year-old king's son and crown prince Mohammad bin Salman in the case, and expose the role played by other top Saudi officials.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, had turned down a legal demand to release the report in declassified form, with his focus on bolstering ties with US’ main Arab ally.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and a fierce critic of the Saudi regime, was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. His body was later dismembered.

While Trump pursued close relations with Riyadh and played key role in the murder cover-up, Biden has indicated that he would adopt no-nonsense approach in the US-Saudi relations.

As a significant indication, Biden has refused to talk directly to the Saudi crown prince with the White House making it clear that Biden sees the octogenarian king as his counterpart.

Recognition of the crown prince’s complicity in the high-profile murder case, it is believed, would cast an ominous shadow on relations between the two long-time allies.

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