Biden raises human rights in call with Saudi king

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US President Joe Biden has talked by phone with King Salman of Saudi Arabia as he seeks to put relations with America’s old ally on a new footing.

He “affirmed the importance” the US “places on universal human rights and the rule of law”, the White House says, reports BBC.

Mr Biden made the call after reading a forthcoming US report into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The report, due to be released shortly, is expected to implicate the king’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Mr Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, pursued closer ties with Saudi Arabia.

The Trump administration rejected a legal requirement to release the report in declassified form, focusing instead on improved co-operation with the Saudis.

Mr Biden is expected to take a much tougher stance on certain Saudi positions.

During the murder in 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Khashoggi’s body was dismembered. The crown prince denies involvement.

Saudi authorities blamed his death on a “rogue operation” by a team of agents sent to return him to the kingdom, and a Saudi court tried and sentenced five individuals to 20 years in prison last September, after initially sentencing them to death.

What did Biden say exactly?
There was no mention of Khashoggi by name in the White House statement but it said: “The President noted positively the recent release of several Saudi-American activists and Ms. Loujain al-Hathloul from custody, and affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.”

Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain Hathloul was released this month after almost three years in detention but remained subject to a travel ban and was forbidden from speaking to the media.

The two leaders discussed “the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia”, and the threat posed to Saudi Arabia by pro-Iranian groups.

“The President told King Salman he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible,” the statement said.

“The two leaders affirmed the historic nature of the relationship and agreed to work together on mutual issues of concern and interest.”❐

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