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President Joe Biden speaks over phone with Saudi King

President Joe Biden spoke over phone with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and discussed regional security issues and affirmed the importance the US places on universal human rights and the rule of law, according to the White House.

Biden made the call on Thursday ahead of a forthcoming US report into the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, according to US media reports. The report, due to be released shortly, is expected to look into whether the king’s son approved the killing of Khashoggi, a known critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s consolidation of power, the reports said.

During the call, the President noted positively the recent release of several Saudi-American activists and Loujain al-Hathloul from custody, and affirmed the importance the US places on universal human rights and the rule of law, the White House said. Saudi women’s rights activist 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.

“Together they discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” the White House said in a readout of the call.

“The President told King Salman he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible. The two leaders affirmed the historic nature of the relationship and agreed to work together on mutual issues of concern and interest,” the White House said.

Separately, Secretary of State Tony Blinken also spoke on Thursday with the Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. The two leaders discussed the importance of Saudi progress on human rights, including through legal and judicial reforms, and their joint efforts to bolster Saudi defences, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said.

“The Secretary also reiterated his commitment to US-Saudi cooperation on ending the war in Yemen, regional security coordination, counterterrorism, and economic development,” he said.

Responding to a question at his daily news conference, Price said that when it comes to the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia, Biden has said that the US will review the entirety of that relationship to make sure that it advances the interests of the American people, and to ensure that it reflects the values the United States brings to that partnership.

“Since very early in this administration, we have taken steps to bring that relationship in accord with our interests and our values. We have spoken of our efforts to end the military conflict in Yemen, the changes we have made to the relationship in that regard, including when it comes to future arms transfers,” he said.

“We have spoken to concerns when it comes to human rights. We have welcomed certain steps that the Saudis have taken to move that in a better direction.  And we continue to call on Saudi Arabia to take additional such steps,” Price said.

“At the same time, we also know that Saudi Arabia is a key partner on many priorities.  We, of course, have been very clear that we condemn the attacks on Saudi territory that have been perpetrated from Yemen by Houthi terrorists.  And we will continue to stand with our Saudi partners as they defend themselves from these outrageous attacks,” he said.

“This relationship, to be sure, is multifaceted, but I want to ensure that we bring those facets much closer in line with our interests and our values.  And this is an important part of that, this being the release of that report and the accountability that will ensue,” Price said in response to a question.

As the US amends its relations with the Saudi Arabia, the White House is attempting to bring Riyadh’s regional rival Iran back into compliance on the nuclear deal that fell apart after former president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018, the Voice of America reported. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was reached by Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the United States) under the Obama administration in 2015.

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