The Biden administration is expected to release a declassified US intelligence report on Thursday finding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, four officials familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
The release is the latest move by President Joe Biden to realign ties with Riyadh after years in which Washington largely gave its key Arab ally a pass on its human rights record, intervention in Yemen’s civil war and other issues.
Biden is shifting US policy away from the cosy relationship that former president Donald Trump had with the crown prince, in favour of strengthening ties with the ageing King Salman.
White House spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday that Biden would only have communications with the 85-year-old Saudi king and said the declassified Khashoggi report will come out soon.
The 59-year-old Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct 2, 2018, and killed by a team linked to the crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler. They then dismembered and disposed of his body.
A Turkish eavesdropping bug planted in the embassy recorded Khashoggi’s death in grisly detail and has been heard by US, UK and other allied security services.
Riyadh eventually admitted that Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue” extradition operation gone wrong, but it denied any involvement by the crown prince.
Five men given the death penalty for the murder had their sentences commuted to 20 years in jail after being forgiven by Khashoggi’s family.
Four US officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said that the declassified US intelligence report concluded that the crown prince approved and likely ordered the murder of Khashoggi, who had used his Washington Post column to criticise the crown prince’s policies.
The Trump administration rejected demands by lawmakers and human rights groups to release a declassified version, seeking to preserve cooperation amid rising tensions with Riyadh’s regional rival, Iran, and promote US arms sales to the kingdom.