The US prime Saudi diplomats focus on human rights forward of the report on the Khashoggi assassination

Newly confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters during his first press conference at the State Department in Washington on January 27, 2021.

Carlos Barria | Reuters

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a call on Thursday with the Secretary of State discussed the importance of Saudi Arabia’s progress on human rights as the White House scrutinizes ties with the oil-rich kingdom long an ally of the US.

Blinken’s discussion with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud comes as Washington and Riyadh prepare to publish a US intelligence review that will reportedly implicate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Blinken also discussed efforts to strengthen Saudi defense, US-Saudi Arabia cooperation in ending the Yemen war, counter-terrorism and economic development, according to a State Department ad.

Khashoggi, a US-based Washington Post columnist, was killed and his body dismembered in October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Riyadh initially denied any involvement in the murder, but later blamed Khashoggi’s death for a rogue operation.

The White House is conducting a major review of US relations with Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally been close but has been subjected to heightened scrutiny by Congress and international scrutiny following Khashoggi’s assassination and the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Yemen.

In his first foreign policy address, President Joe Biden announced the end of US support for the Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen, which includes the cessation of arms sales. He has also tried to bring Iran, Saudi Arabia’s greatest adversary in the Middle East, back to the negotiating table on its nuclear program.

Biden’s government has already downgraded relations with 35-year-old bin Salman, who has been the public face of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since his appointment as Crown Prince in 2017. The White House has made it clear that Biden sees the aging King Salman as his counterpart will lead relationships through him.

The president is expected to be holding his first call to King Salman soon.

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