Published: Fri, February 26, 2021
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Biden, Saudi King have first phone call

Biden, Saudi King have first phone call

After President Joe Biden declassified a report that pinned blame on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over Khashoggi's 2018 killing in Istanbul, Blinken vowed the administration will "push back against governments that reach beyond their borders to threaten and attack journalists and perceived dissidents for exercising their fundamental freedoms".

Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi mission in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 and killed by a team of Saudi operatives linked to the crown prince.

The four-page report confirmed the long-suspected view that the 35-year-old future king had a personal hand in the violent murder of one of his most prominent critics, a columnist and former Saudi insider who was living in exile in the U.S. and used his platform to decry the prince's crackdown on dissent.

"Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, Saudi Arabia's former Deputy Head of General Intelligence Presidency, and Saudi Arabia's Rapid Intervention Force in connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi", the announcement reads.

"The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him", the Central Intelligence Agency report reads.

The U.N. report said a 15-member team of Saudi agents flew to Istanbul specifically to meet Khashoggi, including a forensic doctor and people who worked in the crown prince's office.

This is a developing story.

Mr Biden has already ordered a review of USA arms sales to Saudi Arabia and is scrutinising purchases made under Donald Trump.

U.S. President Joe Biden's actions in the first weeks of his administration appear aimed at fulfilling campaign promises to realign Saudi ties after critics accused his predecessor, Donald Trump, of giving the Arab ally and major oil producer a pass on gross human rights violations. The documents establishing the link between the planes and the prince were filed by a group of Saudi-state owned companies as part of an embezzlement suit they opened last month in Canada against a former top Saudi intelligence official, Saad Aljabri.

He was lured on October 2, 2018, to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul with a promise of a document that he needed to marry his Turkish fiancee.

As a candidate, Biden described Saudi Arabia as a "pariah" state and said there was "very little social redeeming value in the present government".

Crown Prince Mohammed is also the Saudi defense minister and spoke last week with United States' new defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, suggesting that the Biden administration had determined it must deal with him at some level - as the Trump administration did.

But there was nothing more specific about Saudi arrests of dissidents and journalists.

"There are also areas where we will continue to work with Saudi Arabia given the threats they face in the region", she added in an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia's main rival and USA foe, Iran.

Riyadh eventually admitted that he was killed in a "rogue" extradition operation gone wrong, but it denied any involvement by the Crown Prince.

Turkish authorities said Khashoggi was suffocated and his body dismembered in a pre-meditated killing soon after entering the consulate.

Washington choreographed events to soften the blow, with Biden on Thursday speaking with the crown prince's 85-year-old father, King Salman, in a call in which both sides said they reaffirmed their decades-old alliance and pledged co-operation. The move may allow Washington to put some distance between itself and the 35-year-old crown prince. Rather, it focused on Middle Eastern issues like Iran and the ongoing war in Yemen.

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