US President Biden calls Saudi King Salman; raises human rights


US President Joe Biden has made a telephone call to Saudi King Salman on Thursday to emphasise universal human rights and the rule of law, putting White House’s relations with the oil-rich kingdom on a new footing.

Biden’s discussion with Salman comes as Washington and Riyadh prepare for the release of a US intelligence assessment that will reportedly implicate the king’s son, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The crown prince denies ordering the murder of Khashoggi but said he took full responsibility for the killing, “since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government”.

In a statement, the White House says Mr. Biden will “recalibrate” the relationship with Saudi Arabia as he “affirmed the importance” the US “places on universal human rights and the rule of law”.

Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, pursued closer ties with Saudi Arabia and had rejected a legal requirement to release the report in declassified form, focusing instead on improved co-operation with the Saudis.

Khashoggi, a US-based journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia’s government, was murdered in 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul, and his body dismembered.

Saudi authorities blamed his death on a “rogue operation” by a team of agents sent to return him to the kingdom, and a Saudi court tried and sentenced five individuals to 20 years in prison last September, after initially sentencing them to death.

According to a readout of the conversation released by the White House, Biden noted the recent release of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul and several Saudi American activists from prison.

There was no mention of Khashoggi on the readout of the call, which said Biden “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law”.

Ms. Hathloul was released this month after almost three years in detention but remained subject to a travel ban and was forbidden from speaking to the media.

Her release was also welcomed by UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, when she addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday, but she noted that others “continued to be unjustly detained”, Reuters news agency reports.

Mr. Biden and King Salman also discussed “the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia”, and the threat posed to Saudi Arabia by pro-Iranian groups.

Mr. Biden told King Salman “he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible”, the statement said. (Source: BBC)