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Biden to speak with Saudi king 'soon' as pressure builds for Khashoggi report

Biden to speak with Saudi king 'soon' as pressure builds for Khashoggi report
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President BidenJoe BidenFederal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Biden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure Jill Biden gives shout out to Champ, Major on National Pet Day MORE is set to speak with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman “soon,” the White House said on Wednesday, adding that the administration is committed to releasing an unclassified report likely linking the king’s son to the killing of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiWhite House sends mixed message on higher taxes The Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges Biden eyes bigger US role in global vaccination efforts MORE said a call between the president and the Saudi king is “still in the process of scheduling” but is expected to happen soon.

It would be the first call between the two leaders since Biden took office last month, and the White House has said the administration is looking to “recalibrate” the relationship between Washington and Riyadh.

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While Biden has publicly stated a U.S. commitment to Saudi Arabia and its defensive needs in the region, the affirmations came alongside his announcement earlier this month that he would end U.S. support for the Saudi-led offensive in neighboring Yemen’s civil war.

The shift represents a turn away from the Trump administration, which put Saudi Arabia at the center of its Middle East foreign policy and gave a prominent platform to the king’s son, heir apparent and day-to-day ruler of the country, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Psaki on Wednesday emphasized that Biden would speak with the 85-year-old King and that bin Salman was not expected to be on the call.

“The president’s intention, as is the intention of this government, is to recalibrate our engagement with Saudi Arabia and to have counterparts communicate with counterparts,” Psaki said.

"I would anticipate the call being directly with the king, or a one-on-one call. … Those would be the primary participants," she added.

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Bin Salman, who holds the title of deputy prime minister and minister of defense, among other titles, spoke with Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinPentagon insists vaccine rollout a success despite spotty data Blinken to return to Brussels to discuss Russia, Ukraine tensions Defense secretary boasts 'ironclad' commitment to Israel during trip to Tel Aviv MORE last week.

Psaki added that the administration is “committed to releasing” an unclassified report from the office of the Director of National Intelligence about Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi government who was lured to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and killed in October 2018.

The CIA reportedly concluded that the crown prince personally ordered Khashoggi’s killing, and Congress in December 2019 passed legislation requiring a declassified assessment by the intelligence community to be released.

The crown prince has denied any involvement but said in a 2019 interview with PBS that he is ultimately responsible because the killing “happened under my watch.”

Axios reported earlier on Wednesday that Biden would speak with King Salman on Wednesday and that the declassified intelligence report on Khashoggi would be released on Thursday.

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Avril HainesAvril HainesHillicon Valley: Intel heads to resume threats hearing scrapped under Trump | New small business coalition to urge action on antitrust policy | Amazon backs corporate tax hike to pay for infrastructure Intel heads to resume worldwide threats hearing scrapped under Trump 2024 GOP White House hopefuls lead opposition to Biden Cabinet MORE, the director of national intelligence (DNI), committed to releasing the classified report during her confirmation hearing in January, saying she would follow the law.

Haines's office did not respond to a request for comment by The Hill. 

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpGaetz was denied meeting with Trump: CNN Federal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Police in California city declare unlawful assembly amid 'white lives matter' protest MORE notably downplayed the crown prince’s reported involvement in Khashoggi’s death, in favor of bolstering the U.S. and Saudi relationship. Riyadh was a key player in Trump's Middle East foreign policy.

Saudi Arabia was the first country that Trump visited as president, and the crown prince reportedly enjoyed a close personal relationship with the Trump's son-in-law and former senior adviser, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerThe Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges Trump in talks to partner with apps to create social media network: report Colin Kahl's nomination will be a disaster for Israel and the region MORE.