A US delegation led by White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan brought up the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in talks with leading Saudi Arabian officials last week, a senior US official says.
Sullivan, Middle East envoy Brett McGurk and other US officials met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and other top Saudi officials in Riyadh on September 28.
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The main point of the talks was to discuss the conflict in Yemen and ways to arrange a ceasefire.
But a senior Biden administration official, who briefed reporters about this week’s visit to Washington by Israel’s national security adviser, said the visiting delegation also brought up the case of Khashoggi specifically and human rights in general.
Khashoggi, a Saudi-born US resident who wrote columns for the Washington Post critical of MBS, was killed in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to retrieve documents for his marriage.
In February, an unclassified US intelligence report found that MBS, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, had approved the operation that led to the murder by a Saudi hit squad inside the consulate.
The Saudi government previously had denied MBS had any role in the killing.
The country’s foreign affairs ministry denounced the conclusions, saying the report contained a “negative, false and unacceptable assessment … pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership” as well as “inaccurate information and conclusions”.
But the findings shook relations between Riyadh and Washington and heaped pressure on US President Joe Biden, who was elected last year on a promise to put human rights at the centre of US foreign policy.
Biden has worked to recalibrate US relations with Saudi Arabia after the friendly ties his predecessor, Donald Trump, had with MBS and other Saudi officials.
“We have taken steps to prevent such a reprehensible crime from happening again,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement on Saturday, the third anniversary of Khashoggi’s death.