WASHINGTON (Middle East Eye) – Two U.S. lawmakers have sent a letter to the administration of President Joe Biden seeking an explanation as to why Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman was granted a U.S. visa, and asking whether or not he is on a list of Saudi citizens barred from entering the U.S. over the 2018 killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The letter, sent by congressmen Tom Malinowski and Brian Fitzpatrick, comes as Prince Khalid, the younger brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), arrives in Washington this week for a series of meetings with U.S. officials.
“According to public reports, Prince Khalid met with senior U.S. government officials, seemingly undermining the administration’s February 2021 statements indicating that you would seek to recalibrate the U.S.-Saudi relationship by engaging your official counterparts,” the letter said.
The prince served as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington when Khashoggi, also a U.S. resident, was murdered in 2018.
Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul back in October 2018 raised a global outcry and put pressure on the Saudi crown prince.
U.S. intelligence agencies admitted last year that Mohammed bin Salman ordered a team of Saudi operatives to kill Khashoggi. In February, the Biden administration confirmed the crown prince had masterminded the brutal murder.
‘Biden May Meet MBS’
The developments come as Biden may meet in person with the Saudi crown prince as early as next month, according to a report by CNN citing multiple officials.
Biden administration officials are currently in talks with their Saudi counterparts about a potential meeting between the two leaders while Biden is overseas next month, officials told CNN. The meeting would come after months of turbulent relations and multiple attempts at rapprochement by the White House.
“You should count on something like this happening, it just comes down to when, not if,” a former U.S. official familiar with the discussions said.
“Because of our multiple shared national security interests, [a meeting] is a good thing,” said the former U.S. official.
Meanwhile, leading human rights groups have urged the United Nations to scrutinize Saudi Arabia’s treatment of advocates ahead of a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council (OHCHR) next month.
Experts from Amnesty International, the Persian Gulf Center for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch said at an event on Wednesday that the OHCHR needed to address a number of key concerns at the summit - including women’s rights, arbitrary detentions, the death penalty, and the conditions of migrant workers.
“It is really important that diplomats keep Saudi Arabia on its agenda and establish regular monitoring and reporting on its human rights situation,” said Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Without this, we will only hear what the Saudi authorities want us to hear on their so-called reforms.”
Speaking at the event, the rights groups said the UN must pressure the kingdom to allow international observers the ability to monitor the situation on the ground and the alleged reforms taking place in the country.