WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman said he held “a great meeting” on Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in which they explored strengthening U.S.-Saudi ties and reviewed regional developments.
Prince Khalid, the brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, is the highest ranking Saudi official to visit Washington since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January.
Biden has recalibrated ties with Riyadh, a close U.S. ally, which enjoyed warm relations with his predecessor, Donald Trump, by putting a greater emphasis on human rights. Biden also ended U.S. support for offensive operations by the Saudi-led coalition fighting against the Houthi movement in Yemen’s civil war.
Biden shook the relationship by allowing the release in February of an unclassified U.S. intelligence report that found that the crown prince, known as MbS, approved a 2018 operation in which journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Biden, however, deflected calls by lawmakers and human rights groups to sanction MbS. Riyadh denies that MbS was involved. Prince Khalid was the Saudi ambassador to Washington at that time.
In posts on Twitter on his second day in Washington, Prince Khalid said he held a “great meeting” with Blinken on “the strategic Saudi-U.S. partnership,” regional developments and “ways to strengthen Saudi-U.S. ties.”
He said he also met Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland “to review the coordination between our two countries and discuss opportunities for cooperation on a wide range of issues.”
Nuland and Prince Khalid discussed regional developments, U.S. support to Riyadh against cross-border attacks by the Houthis “and improving human rights,” the State Department said.
Blinken joined them for part of the discussions to review U.S.-backed U.N. efforts to arrange a ceasefire and a resumption of political talks on ending Yemen’s civil war, the State Department said in a statement.
The statement made no mention of the Khashoggi murder or the indirect talks between the United States and Iran on restoring their adherence to the Iran nuclear deal, which Riyadh opposes.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)