WASHINGTON (Dispatches) – A declassified version of a U.S. intelligence report expected to be released finds that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, four U.S. officials familiar with the matter said.
The officials said the report, for which the CIA was the main contributor, assessed that the crown prince approved and likely ordered the murder of Khashoggi, whose Washington Post column had criticized the crown prince’s policies.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat who succeeded the Republican Donald Trump five weeks ago, told reporters Wednesday he had read the report.
The report’s release is part of Biden’s policy to realign ties with Riyadh after years of giving the Arab ally and major oil producer a pass on its human rights record and its devastating war on Yemen.
Biden is working to restore the relationship with Riyadh to traditional lines after four years of cozier ties under Trump.
Biden spoke for the first time since becoming president with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Thursday ahead of releasing the report about the murder of Khashoggi.
He "affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law”, the White House said in a brief statement after the call.
"Our administration is focused on recalibrating the relationship,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday before the call.
"Certainly, there are areas where we will express concerns and leave open the option of accountability,” Psaki said.
"There are also areas where we will continue to work with Saudi Arabia given the threats they face in the region,” she said.
Khashoggi, a former advocate of the Saudi royal court who later became a critic, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, after he entered the premises to collect documents for his planned wedding to his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz.
Leaked Saudi documents show that the assassination squad that killed the Saudi dissident journalist flew to Istanbul on private jets owned by a company under the full control of the Saudi crown prince, a report says.
Citing official documents labeled "Top Secret” and signed by a Saudi minister, the CNN reported late on Wednesday that the ownership of the company Sky Prime Aviation had in 2017 been transferred to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which is the country’s $400-billion sovereign wealth fund, and the company’s planes were later used in the October 2018 killing of Khashoggi.
The sovereign wealth fund is controlled by the Saudi royal family and is chaired by the 35-year-old crown prince.