The US authorities are set to release a report of an investigation into the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi which is widely expected to implicate the kingdom’s powerful crown prince.
President Joe Biden has read the report and is due to speak to King Salman.
The president wants to “recalibrate” ties with Saudi Arabia, which became closer under President Donald Trump.
Jamal Khashoggi’s body was dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bon Salman denies involvement.
The Washington Post journalist, known for his criticism of Saudi authorities, went to the consulate in October 2018 in order to obtain papers allowing him to get married.
According to Saudi authorities, Jamal Khashoggi’s death and dismemberment was the result of a “rogue operation” by a team of agents sent to return him to the kingdom.
Five individuals were given death sentences for the murder by a Saudi court but these were commuted to 20 years in prison in September 2020.
The report, which is expected to be released later on February 25, will say that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved “and likely ordered” Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, four US officials told Reuters.
They said the CIA was the main contributor to the report.
The Saudi public prosecution and Prince Mohammed insist he did not have any knowledge of the murder but in 2019 he said he took “full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government”.
According to that reported assessment, there was no “smoking gun” but US officials thought such an operation would have required the prince’s approval.
The Washington Post said at the time that the CIA assessment had been based partly on a phone call made by the crown prince’s brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, who was the then Saudi ambassador to the US.
Prince Khalid, who is now deputy defense minister, allegedly called Jamal Khashoggi at the direction of his brother and gave him assurances that he would be safe to go to the consulate in Istanbul. Prince Khalid has denied any communication with the journalist.
In 2019, UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard accused Saudi Arabia of the “deliberate, premeditated execution” of Jamal Khashoggi and dismissed the Saudi trial as an “antithesis of justice”.
The publication of the report is part of President Biden’s policy to realign ties with long-term ally Saudi Arabia and take a much tougher stance than his predecessor President Trump on certain Saudi positions.
The Trump administration had previously rejected a legal requirement to release a declassified version of the report, focusing instead on improved co-operation with the Saudis.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on February 24 that President Biden would communicate with King Salman, and not directly with the crown prince, who is his son and is considered the de facto ruler in Saudi Arabia.
She said President Biden was due to speak to the 85-year-old king for the first time since taking office “soon”, without giving a specific time for the call.
Jen Psaki told reporters: “We’ve made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”