President Joe Biden is set to call Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ahead of the public release of an intelligence report about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, US media reports said on Tuesday.
The call will be the first between the two leaders since Mr Biden entered the White House in January, and while the two are expected to discuss a range of issues the matter of the Khashoggi report is expected to feature prominently.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and US resident who wrote critical columns about the Saudi government and crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman in particular, was allegedly tortured, murdered and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018.
A Washington Post report last week said the Biden administration would make the long-awaited findings of the US intelligence services public imminently. The unclassified summary by the office of the director of national intelligence is expected to say that the Saudi crown prince “ordered Khashoggi’s assassination”, according to the Post.
An Axios report cited sources briefed on the Biden-King Salman call as saying it would be dominated by the matter of the Khashoggi findings.
It quoted a spokesperson for the National Security Council as being unable to confirm that the call was scheduled for Wednesday itself, however. Earlier, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Mr Biden would speak to King Salman “in appropriate time”.
The unclassified report is to be released by the Biden administration after former president Donald Trump and his administration ignored legislation passed by Congress in 2019 calling for the findings of the report to be made public.
The Biden administration has previously stated its ambition “to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia”, after the Trump administration largely dealt with Prince Mohammed as the de facto ruler of the country.
“One of the questions there was also, just to go back to the context of it – whether [Mr Biden] would be speaking with [crown prince] MBS,” Ms Psaki said last week.
“And part of that (recalibration) is going back to engagement, counterpart to counterpart. The president’s counterpart is King Salman, and I expect that, in appropriate time, he would have a conversation with him,” she said.
King Salman and his administration continues to deny any involvement in the murder of Khashoggi, and has said that agents from a hit squad went rogue and acted independently of the country’s leadership.
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