Top administration officials for U.S. President Joe Biden have hosted Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defence Minister Khalid bin Salman in the highest-level visit just months after a U.S. intelligence report linked his brother, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The visit by Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister, Prince Khalid bin Salman, was not announced in advance by the Biden administration.
During his presidential campaign, Mr. Biden promised to make the kingdom’s crown prince a “pariah” because of Khashoggi’s murder and other abuses. Still, his administration focused on U.S. strategic interests with Saudi Arabia, AP news reported.
The high-level meetings with Prince Khalid reignited accusations that the administration gave the Saudis a pass in the Khashoggi killing, given Saudi Arabia’s strategic importance as a Middle East power and top oil producer.
“U.S. still has their back, no matter how awfully they terrorise their citizens,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the founder of the Arab rights group “Democracy for the Arab World Now,” took to Twitter to criticize Biden’s policies.
President Biden has stated that his foreign policy will be guided by human rights and American values.
However, after the U.S. reports on Mohammed bin Salman’s complicity in Khashoggi’s death were released in February, President Biden told ABC News that the United States had never punished the acting leader of a country with which it had a partnership.
According to a U.S. summary of their conversation, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan emphasized Prince Khalid in today’s talks about the need to strengthen human rights in the kingdom.
However, the two discussed strategic issues where Saudi Arabia’s participation is critical to Biden’s goals, such as the global economic recovery, where the kingdom is leading a campaign to increase OPEC output and stabilize rising oil prices.
As the Biden administration works to re-enter a nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. is also attempting to reassure Saudi Arabia on security matters.
One official said Khalid bin Salman met with officials at the Pentagon, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, anonymously to discuss a meeting that the Pentagon did not reveal publicly. Later, Prince Khalid will meet with officials from the State Department.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a news briefing that authorities might bring up the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist who criticized Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed by Saudi officials at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in Oct. 2018.
Khashoggi, who lived in the Washington, DC area, went to the consulate to obtain paperwork for his planned wedding.
In February, the Biden administration issued a declassified intelligence dossier suggesting that Mohammed bin Salman, the aged King Salman’s son, had authorized the killing of Khashoggi by a team of Saudi security and intelligence personnel.
At the time of Khashoggi’s murder, Prince Khalid was the kingdom’s ambassador in Washington. Soon after, he was recalled amid bipartisan outcry in the United States for the killing of the well-known journalist.
Khashoggi vanished after visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey, and Saudi Crown Prince Khalid bin Salman reiterated for days that any suspicions of official Saudi participation in his disappearance were baseless.
According to the Washington Post, Prince Khalid advised Khashoggi to travel to the Turkish consulate to pick up his wedding paperwork and assured him that it would be safe to do so.
The prince’s formal visit to Washington comes as the kingdom’s rulers continue to hold numerous royal family members and activists for more rights in custody or under travel prohibitions that sometimes include their relatives.
“Prince KBS can travel although he is working for the Crown Prince, directly involved in the murder,” of Khashoggi, tweeted Lina al Hathloul.
She is the sister of Loujain al Hathloul, who was imprisoned for more than two years by Mohammed bin Salman after her high-profile campaign to enable women to drive in the country.
The Saudi authorities did not respond to a request for comment on the visit. An inquiry regarding why the Saudi official’s visit had not been announced in advance was not answered by U.S. State Department representatives.
They also refused to say whether the Biden administration had determined that despite the administration’s public condemnation of the killing, Khalid bin Salman played no role in the Saudi organization behind Khashoggi’s murder or had decided that U.S. interests required Biden officials to meet with senior Saudi royals.