White House says no call planned to Saudi Arabia

President Biden has announced an end to US support for a Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen.

FILES) In this file photo taken on November 27, 2018 Saudi Arabia''s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pictured while meeting with the Tunisian President at the presidential palace in Carthage on th
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been accused of involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi [Fethi Belaid/AFP]

US President Joe Biden has no plans to call the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the White House said.

Biden said he intends to make human right a key issue in US-Saudi relations, which he pledged during the 2020 election campaign.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday no call was planned to the crown prince.

“Well, obviously there’s a review of our policy as it relates to Saudi Arabia. There’s not a call planned that I’m aware of,” she said in the daily news briefing.

Psaki previously side-stepped a question on whether the administration would impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia for the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Biden earlier this month unveiled a first step in taking a firmer line with the kingdom, announcing an end to US support for offensive operations by the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen.

Calling Khashoggi’s death a “horrific crime” earlier this month, Psaki reiterated the administration’s intention to declassify a US intelligence report on the murder, which the CIA assessed was approved – and possibly ordered – by MBS.

The prince denied ordering the murder.

Signs are emerging Saudi Arabia is trying to improve its human rights record. Prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released this week from a Saudi prison after nearly three years behind bars.

Rights groups and her family say she was subjected in prison to electric shocks, waterboarding, flogging and sexual assault – accusations Saudi Arabia denies.

Al-Hathloul, who pushed to end a ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, was imprisoned in 2018 and sentenced by a court in December to an almost six-year jail term on terrorism-related charges, in a case that drew international condemnation.

Held for 1,001 days, with stints in pre-trial detention and solitary confinement, she was found guilty on charges including agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda, and using the internet to harm public order.

Although released, al-Hathloul will remain under strict conditions including a five-year travel ban and three years of probation.