Top Biden administration officials on Tuesday played host to a brother to Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in the highest-level such visit known since the United States made public intelligence findings linking the Crown Prince to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Biden administration did not publicly disclose the visit by Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy defence minister, in advance. U.S. President Joe Biden had pledged to make a “pariah” of the kingdom’s crown prince during his presidential campaign over Mr. Khashoggi’s killing and other abuses, but his administration has instead emphasized U.S. strategic interests with Saudi Arabia.
At a briefing with reporters Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the meetings were under way and indicated officials may raise the killing.
The Prince met briefly at the Pentagon with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a meeting that was not yet made public. The Saudi Prince had longer talks at the Pentagon with Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defence for policy, the official said.
The Prince also was due to talk with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and, at the State Department, undersecretary Victoria Nuland and counsellor Derek Chollet, two other U.S. officials said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the visit.
Americans and the Prince were expected to discuss matters including the war in Yemen, military contracts and Saudi concerns over U.S. efforts to return to a nuclear agreement with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s rival.
A State Department spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the administration has made clear it found Mr. Khashoggi’s killing unacceptable. The spokesperson said the U.S. would continue raising human rights concerns at the highest level.
The Saudi government had no immediate public comment on the visit.
Mr. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who had written critically of the Crown Prince, was killed by Saudi officials in October, 2018, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Mr. Khashoggi, who was based in the Washington area, had gone to the consulate to get documentation for his coming wedding.
State Department spokespeople did not respond to a question Tuesday about why they had not announced the Saudi official’s visit in advance.
They also did not answer whether the Biden administration had concluded Prince Khalid played no role in the Saudi organization behind Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, or had decided instead that U.S. interests required Biden officials to meet with senior Saudi royals despite the administration’s public condemnation of the killing.
As the Crown Prince’s younger brother, Prince Khalid was the kingdom’s ambassador in Washington at the time, but he was recalled soon after Mr. Khashoggi’s killing amid bipartisan U.S. outrage. When Mr. Khashoggi vanished after going to the Saudi consulate in Turkey, Prince Khalid insisted for days that accusations of official Saudi involvement in his disappearance were groundless.
The Post reported the Prince had told Mr. Khashoggi to go to the consulate in Turkey to pick up the needed wedding papers, and told him it would be safe to do so.
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