Biden Calls Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Amid Policy Review

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Biden Calls Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Amid Policy Review

President Biden spoke by phone Thursday with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, as the White House reviews U.S. policy toward the kingdom and the administration prepares to release an unclassified report on the role of Saudi officials in the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The White House said the two leaders discussed regional security, including diplomatic efforts to end the war in Yemen, as well as a U.S. commitment to help the kingdom defend its territory from groups aligned with Iran.

Mr. Biden also “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” according to the White House, while touting the recent release of detained Saudi-American activists and prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul.

Saudi officials in a statement in Riyadh about the call said Mr. Biden also told the king he wouldn’t allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has said it is pursuing a nuclear-energy program, but has denied it is seeking to build weapons.

The call took place as the White House works to recalibrate its relationship with Saudi Arabia, emphasizing the importance of human rights and stressing accountability for Mr. Khashoggi’s death.

The administration is planning to release the unclassified report on Mr. Khashoggi’s death as soon as this week. The report is expected to highlight Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s alleged role in Mr. Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The White House’s statement of Thursday’s call made no mention of the report.

The Wall Street Journal reported in late 2018 that a highly classified CIA assessment determined with medium- to high-confidence that the Saudi crown prince likely ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. The crown prince has denied involvement, but has said he takes responsibility for it as Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader.

Mr. Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he has read the report, but didn’t provide any details.

Asked on Wednesday whether the president would be agreeable to Prince Mohammed being on the call with King Salman, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she expected Mr. Biden and King Salman to be the primary participants.

Former President Donald Trump met and spoke with Prince Mohammed, including during a lengthy U.S. tour by the Saudi royal in 2018. Ms. Psaki last week said that as part of the recalibration of ties, Mr. Biden sees the king as his counterpart, not the crown prince.

Also last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone with Prince Mohammed, who was identified in a Pentagon statement as the Saudi minister of defense. The crown prince, while considered heir to the throne, also carries out the duties of defense minister.

A report on Saudi officials who had advance knowledge or played a role in Mr. Khashoggi’s death was ordered by Congress in a 2019 law, but Mr. Trump declined to release the report publicly.

Mr. Biden’s director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, pledged to do so during her Senate confirmation hearing.

As part of its review of U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia, the Biden administration is examining arms sales, the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen and whether the U.S. has done enough to hold Saudi officials accountable for the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. It has stressed, however, that it will continue to help protect the kingdom against attacks from Iranian-aligned groups in Yemen and Iraq.

Mr. Biden already has made several calls to world leaders, including rivals such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as allies like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Write to Andrew Restuccia at Andrew.Restuccia@wsj.com

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