U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday spoke with Saudi Arabia’s king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ahead of the release of a damning report detailing how his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the murder of a U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The call was initially expected to take place on Wednesday, but the White House released a statement, saying it finally took place today.
“President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke today with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia to address the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia,” the White House said in a statement.
“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 U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups. 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. 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 added.
Turkish police believe Kashoggi, who worked for the Washington Post, was tortured and killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, by a 15-member team brought in from Saudi Arabia for the “rogue operation.”
In 2018, the CIA concluded that Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey.
But rather than punish the murderer, former President Donald J. Trump rewarded the Saudi government with an arms sales contract, citing financial gains for the United States and downplaying the horrible crime.
The DNI is expected to release an unclassified report on Khashoggi on Thursday, providing more details into how he was murdered on the orders of Crown Prince bin Salman.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had announced on February 5 that the unclassified report would be released but did not specify a date back then.
“So, first, let me say and reiterate: The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was a horrific crime. We are prepared to release an unclassified report with full transparency for Congress. This is the law, and we’ll follow the law,” Psaki said at her press briefing on February 5.
She added: “We, of course, expect Saudi Arabia to improve its record on human rights — that includes releasing political prisoners — such as women’s rights, advocates for Saudi jails. We’re encouraged by the release yesterday of two dual national American-Saudi citizens. We hope to see further progress over the next coming months.
“And as noted in a couple of areas we’ve talked about, there’s an ongoing review, of course, of our policies. You saw the President make an announcement yesterday about our engagement in Yemen, which, of course, is directly connected.
“But again, there’ll be ongoing discussions and reviews by our national security team. I don’t have any policy decisions to read out for you or predict for you at this point in time.”
President Biden has taken a different approach from the previous administration. Early this month, he announced that the United States will be ending support for offensive operations in Yemen where human rights organizations have accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of committing atrocities and possible war crimes with American weapons.
Rights and advocacy groups backed Biden’s decision to end support for military operations in Yemen.
“President Biden’s expected decision to end offensive U.S. military support in Yemen is a momentous victory. We, along with all those who have for years fought U.S. complicity in the catastrophic war in Yemen, are thrilled that this day is finally here. We commend the Biden administration for following through on its campaign promise,” said Win Without War Policy Director Kate Kizer.
Kizer added: “Today’s announcement would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of progressive leaders, Yemeni advocates, and activists across the country and from around the world. It was only through this organizing – in the U.S., but also across borders with activists in Yemen and European capitals – that we were able to expose the true nature of the U.S. military in the war in Yemen and its devastating human costs. This is what it looks like when the people mobilize transnationally to fight the war machine and craft a foreign policy that puts human wellbeing before arms industry profits.
“Today’s action is only a step toward finally ending the destructive U.S. role in Yemen. The reversal of a destructive policy does not, on its own, constitute peace, healing, or justice for the Yemenis who have long suffered as a result of U.S. intervention. The time is now for the United States to commit to investing in the robust multilateral diplomacy needed to find an inclusive settlement to this conflict. We won’t stop organizing until the U.S. ends all of its harmful policies towards Yemen and works to build accountability for the atrocities committed.
“Today’s announcement is a sign of the power of our movement for a more peaceful, progressive U.S. foreign policy. This is only the beginning. Now is the time for a clean break from the past and for the U.S. to finally commit to seeking positive peace in Yemen.”
Philippe Nassif, the advocacy director for Amnesty International for the Middle East and North Africa said as the conflict in Yemen enters its seventh year, it is vital for the United States to commit to prioritizing the safety of civilians in the country.
“Central to these efforts will be stopping the flow of arms from the United States into situations where they will be used to commit war crimes and grave human rights violations. Halting the sale of precision guided munitions is the first big step. The human tragedy of United States arms sales is immense pain and suffering inflicted on civilians in Yemen that must not be continued to be swept aside, and crimes committed with arms sold by the United States must be investigated.
“Paveway guided missiles were found by Amnesty International to have been used to commit war crimes in Yemen. All arms sales to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia should be blocked lest they be used to commit further war crimes in Yemen,” Nassif said.
Last month, Amnesty International welcomed Biden’s temporary freeze of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE, citing widespread human rights abuses, including possible war crimes.
Philippe Nassif, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA, said President Biden’s decision to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE represents “a welcome relief in an otherwise shameful chapter of history.”
Almost six years of conflict in Yemen, fueled by irresponsible arms transfers, have left 14 million Yemenis in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
“The suspension of arms sales by the United States is a step in the right direction and ups the pressure on European countries, most notably the UK and France, to follow suit and stop fueling the human misery in Yemen,” Nassif said in a statement.
“For years, we have been warning Western states that they risk complicity in war crimes as they continue to enable the Saudi-led coalition with arms. The Biden administration is finally acknowledging the disastrous effects of these continued sales, and puts to shame other states that continue to ignore the mountain of evidence of probable war crimes collected by Yemenis, the United Nations, and human rights organization over the course of the past six years.”
The international human rights organization recalled that since 2015, the Saudi and UAE-led Coalition carried out “scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate air strikes on civilians and civilians’ objects, hitting homes, schools, hospitals, markets, mosques, weddings and funerals.”
Amnesty International said it has documented over 40 coalition air strikes that appear to have violated international humanitarian law, many of which amount to war crimes. These have resulted in more than 500 civilian deaths and 400 civilian injured.
In relation to the UAE, Amnesty International said it has collected extensive evidence that show weapons are not only being used by the UAE forces in Yemen, but are also being passed on to completely unaccountable militias, some of which stand accused of war crimes.