US hosts highest-level Saudi visit since Khashoggi killing

White House says grisly murder of journalist may be raised in meetings with delegation led by Khalid bin Salman, Riyadh’s deputy defense minister and brother of crown prince

Top Biden administration officials on Tuesday hosted a brother to Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in the highest-level such visit known since the US made public intelligence findings linking the crown prince to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Biden administration did not publicly disclose the visit by Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister, in advance. President Joe Biden had pledged to make a “pariah” of the kingdom’s crown prince during his presidential campaign over Khashoggi’s killing and other abuses, but his administration has instead emphasized US strategic interests with Saudi Arabia.

At a briefing with reporters Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the meetings were underway and indicated that officials may raise the killing.

Khalid bin Salman met briefly at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a meeting that was not yet made public. The Saudi prince had longer talks at the Pentagon with Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, the official said.

Khalid bin Salman also was due to talk with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and, at the State Department, Undersecretary Victoria Nuland and counselor Derek Chollet, two other US officials said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the visit.

Americans and the prince were expected to discuss matters including the war in Yemen, military contracts and Saudi concerns over US efforts to return to a nuclear agreement with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s rival.

A State Department spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the administration has made clear that it found Khashoggi’s killing unacceptable. The spokesperson said the US would continue raising human rights concerns at the highest level.

The Saudi government had no immediate public comment on the visit.

Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post who had written critically of Mohammed bin Salman, was killed by Saudi officials in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi, who was based in the Washington, DC area, had gone to the consulate to get documentation for his upcoming wedding.

The Biden administration in February released a declassified intelligence report concluding that Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful son of the aging King Salman, had authorized the team of Saudi security and intelligence officials that killed Khashoggi.

State Department spokespeople did not respond to a question Tuesday about why they had not announced the Saudi official’s visit in advance.

They also did not answer whether the Biden administration had concluded Khalid bin Salman played no role in the Saudi organization behind Khashoggi’s killing, or had decided instead that US interests required Biden officials to meet with senior Saudi royals despite the administration’s public condemnation of the killing.

As the crown prince’s younger brother, Prince Khalid was the kingdom’s ambassador in Washington at the time, but he was recalled soon after Khashoggi’s killing amid bipartisan US outrage. When Khashoggi vanished after going to the Saudi consulate in Turkey, Khalid bin Salman insisted for days that accusations of official Saudi involvement in his disappearance were groundless.

The Washington Post reported that Khalid bin Salman had told Khashoggi to go to the consulate in Turkey to pick up the needed wedding papers, and told him it would be safe to do so.

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