- The White House said Biden will not be holding a call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
- “The president’s counterpart is King Salman,” press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.
- Biden is moving to “recalibrate” US-Saudi relations, she added.
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The White House on Tuesday said President Joe Biden is going to “recalibrate” the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, in yet another signal the president will take a decidedly different stance toward the kingdom than what was seen under the Trump administration.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden will be dealing directly with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud rather than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, also known as MBS.
“The president’s counterpart is King Salman,” Psaki said, adding that Biden and the king will speak at an “appropriate” time.
—The Recount (@therecount) February 16, 2021
This is a significant announcement from the Biden administration following four years of close relationships between the US government and the Saudi crown prince – the kingdom’s de facto ruler. King Salman is 85 and reportedly in poor health. Biden’s move to deal with the king marks a diplomatic slight to the crown prince.
President Donald Trump’s staunch support for Prince Mohammed, even amid outcry over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, was heavily criticized by congressional lawmakers from both major parties. The close ties between Prince Mohammed and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, also raised suspicions.
The CIA concluded that Prince Mohammed personally ordered Khashoggi’s murder, an assessment that is widely shared.
Khashoggi’s brutal murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018 led to global condemnation of the Saudi government. Following the killing, there were bipartisan calls in Washington, DC, for the US to reassess its relationship with the Saudis.
In particular, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pushed for an end to US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The Yemen war has induced the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and thousands of civilians have been killed – including by US-made bombs. Trump repeatedly blocked efforts to end US involvement in the war, and at one point bragged that he protected Prince Mohammed from congressional backlash after Khashoggi’s killing, according to reporting from veteran journalist Bob Woodward.
Biden during his 2020 campaign vowed to change the nature of the US-Saudi relationship, and in early February announced an end to US support for the Saudis in Yemen.
“This war has to end,” Biden said in a speech at the State Department on February 4. “And to underscore our commitment, we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”
But Biden added that the US would “continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people.”