Joe Biden speaks to Saudi king before Jamal Khashoggi report in sign US is freezing out Prince Salman




  • In World/Asia
  • 2021-02-25 23:01:33Z
  • By The Telegraph
Jamal Khashoggi - Virginia Mayo/AP
Jamal Khashoggi - Virginia Mayo/AP  

US president Joe Biden spoke to Saudi Arabia's King Salman ahead of the release of a potentially explosive US intelligence report which is set to accuse his son Mohammed bin Salman of complicity in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr Biden, who has already seen the intelligence report, is said to have insisted that he speak to King Salman only - and not to Mohammed bin Salman, his son and Crown Prince.

During the presidential election campaign, Mr Biden described Saudi Arabia as a "pariah" and claimed its government had "very little social redeeming value".

Mr Biden's insistence in speaking to King Salman is seen as an attempt to sideline 35-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, who is regarded as the de facto ruler of the country.

"The president's intention, as is the intention of this government, is to recalibrate our engagement with Saudi Arabia," Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said this week, signalling that the Crown Prince could become persona non grata under President Biden.

Funeral of a Houthi backed fighter - Yahya Arhab/Shutterstock
Funeral of a Houthi backed fighter - Yahya Arhab/Shutterstock  

It is understood the purpose of the call was to brief King Salman of the contents of the report, which is due to be declassified imminently.

The CIA has reportedly concluded that the Crown Prince - who was a close ally of Donald Trump - ordered the killing of Mr Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

The Washington Post columnist, a critic of the Crown Prince, was murdered and dismembered by a team of assassins.

According to US news outlets, the intelligence report will conclude that the Crown Prince both ordered and approved the murder, which is likely to plunge the two countries into yet more severe diplomatic tensions and drastically reshape their relationship.

The conclusion was reportedly based on intercepted phone calls made by the Crown Prince in the days leading up to the murder.

In addition, according to court documents, it emerged that a pair of private jets which flew a Saudi hit squad to Turkey to murder the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, was owned by a company that had been seized by the Crown Prince.

The court papers establish an apparent link between the murder and the Crown Prince, who has vehemently denied any role in the killing and says it was a "heinous" crime.

The Kingdom has repeatedly insisted that the killing was instead carried out by a group of rogue Saudi agents.

Although the contents of the intelligence report have already been widely reported in the United States, the Trump administration had refused to declassify it.

Saudi King Salman, right, and his Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - Amir Nabil/AP
Saudi King Salman, right, and his Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - Amir Nabil/AP  

However, Mr Trump did respond to the report by imposing sanctions on 17 Saudis who played a role in Khashoggi's death.

According to the White House, Mr Biden and the King discussed regional security including efforts to end the war in Yemen.

The US also pledged to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks by Iranian-aligned groups.

While welcoming the release of several Saudi-American activists, Mr Biden "affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law."

In doing so Mr Biden sent a clear message that his administration will take a far tougher line on Saudi Arabia than Mr Trump, who was accused of frequently turning a blind eye to human rights as the Kingdom is a major US defence client.

Since taking office Mr Biden has ordered an end to US arms sales and military support for Saudi Arabia in its bloody war with Houthi rebels in Yemen, where the Kingdom has allegedly bombed and killed civilians - though it denies any wrongdoing.

However, the sale of defensive weapons, such as missiles used to protect Saudi Arabia from Iranian-backed militia strikes, will continue.

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