On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s deputy defence minister became the highest-ranking Saudi ambassador to visit Washington since Joe Biden took office in January, meeting with senior officials on the Yemen war and Iran’s threats.
The minister, Prince Khalid bin Salman, is the younger brother of the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is accused by US intelligence of approving a 2018 operation in which Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was killed, an allegation Saudi Arabia denies.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Khashoggi’s death would also likely come up in the talks. The Trump White House had maintained strong ties with the crown prince despite Khashoggi’s death at the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul.
But a White House statement on the minister’s meeting with national security adviser Jake Sullivan did not mention Khashoggi’s murder, although it said Sullivan “emphasized the importance of progress in advancing human rights in the Kingdom.”
The two officials spoke on the United States’ partnership with Saudi Arabia, regional security, and “the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups.”
The prince also met with Colin Kahl, the United States’ undersecretary of defence for policy, and the two talked about “efforts to end the war in Yemen and the shared U.S.-Saudi commitment to counter Iran’s destabilising activities” among other things, according to the Pentagon.
The discussions were intended to offer Saudi Arabia a sense of how ties with the US have evolved since former Republican President Donald Trump’s pro-Saudi policies.
After the Iran-aligned Houthi organisation overthrew Yemen’s government in Sanaa in 2015, a Saudi-led military coalition invaded. The Houthis claim to be fighting against a corrupt system.
Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government has relocated to Aden, while Hadi is still headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Tens of thousands of Yemenis, primarily civilians, have died in the six-year conflict, and millions are on the verge of starvation.
Psaki said talks would also cover Saudi defense needs.
“They’ll discuss the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia, regional security and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” she said.