Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defence Minister Khalid bin Salman is meeting with top Biden administration officials in the United States, just months after a US intelligence report linked his brother, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khalid bin Salman is expected to meet with Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan, as well as with US State and Defense Department officials, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.
“They’ll discuss the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia, regional security and the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory,” Psaki told reporters, adding that the murder of Khashoggi would also likely come up.
The high-level Saudi visit – which had not been announced in advance – comes after rights groups and US legislators had urged US President Joe Biden to sanction MBS for his role in the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, and rethink the US-Saudi relationship.
Khashoggi was killed in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to retrieve documents for his upcoming marriage.
The unclassified US intelligence report released in February found that MBS, the Gulf nation’s de facto ruler, had approved the operation that led to Khashoggi’s murder by a Saudi hit squad inside the consulate. The Saudi government previously had denied MBS had any role in the killing.
The country’s foreign affairs ministry denounced the conclusions, saying the report contained a “negative, false and unacceptable assessment … pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership” as well as “inaccurate information and conclusions”.
But the findings shook relations between Riyadh and Washington, and heaped pressure on US President Joe Biden, who was elected last year on a promise to put human rights at the centre of US foreign policy.
The US president has said he planned to “recalibrate” US-Saudi relations – and would communicate directly with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, not with his son, the crown prince.
Khalid bin Salman was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington at the time of Khashoggi’s murder.
When Khashoggi vanished after going to the Saudi consulate in Turkey, Khalid bin Salman insisted for days that accusations of official Saudi involvement in the journalist’s disappearance were groundless.
The Washington Post also reported that Khalid bin Salman had told Khashoggi to go to the consulate in Turkey to pick up the needed wedding papers, and told him it would be safe to do so.
Citing a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Associated Press said Khalid bin Salman met briefly at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Saudi deputy defence minister also had longer talks at the Pentagon with Colin Kahl, under-secretary of defence for policy, the official said.
Bin Salman will be at the State Department on Wednesday, spokesman Ned Price said.