The upcoming CIA report on Khashoggi may escalate tense US-Saudi relations

President Joe Biden is expected to call Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud on Wednesday, ahead of the scheduled release of a US intelligence report detailing the disappearance and murder of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Biden to call Saudi Arabia’s King Salman about Khashoggi report

The report warns the imminent release of ‘explosive’ US intelligence document could entangle one of the king’s sons.

Citing a source, the news website Axios reported late on Tuesday that the “imminent release of the explosive report” could entangle one of the king’s sons without mentioning any names.

Should it proceed as scheduled, the call would be the first conversation between Biden, as US president and King Salman.

Other issues are likely to be discussed but the Khashoggi case could dominate the headlines, the report added.

The unclassified report from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) reportedly implies that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, was involved in Khashoggi’s murder and the dismemberment of his body.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post newspaper columnist and critic of Saudi government policies, was assassinated by a team of Saudi agents at the country’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, according to reports. He had gone to the building to get the documents he needed for his marriage.

US media outlets later reported that the CIA had concluded MBS was involved.

MBS has vehemently denied the accusations but has accepted responsibility as the kingdom’s de facto leader.

MBS has not spoken to Biden, although as the country’s defence minister, he held a phone call with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Trump’s refusal

In response to the murder, US Congress passed legislation in December 2019 that included a provision requiring the DNI to release an unclassified report on Khashoggi’s murder within 30 days.

The legislation also ordered the DNI to present evidence about the knowledge or role any current or former Saudi government officials or Saudi political figures might have had in the “directing, ordering, or tampering of evidence” in Khashoggi’s killing.

The Trump administration refused to release the full report in defiance of the law, telling legislators that revealing the information would compromise the national intelligence office’s sources and methods.

Former US President Donald Trump was seen as close to the Saudi monarchy, particularly MBS. Trump picked Riyadh as the destination for his first foreign visit, cementing his ties to the country.

Biden is moving to recalibrate US-Saudi ties, ending US support for the Saudi-led operation in Yemen and resuming talks with Iran – a move Riyadh opposes.

Biden’s DNI Avril Haines also pledged during her Senate confirmation hearing that she intended to release the unclassified Khashoggi report.

During the hearing, Senator Ron Wyden told Haines that she had an opportunity to “immediately turn the page on the excessive secrecy and lawlessness of the outgoing administration.”

When Wyden asked Haines if she would submit the report, she responded: “Yes, senator. Absolutely, I will follow the law.”

Human rights groups and United Nations experts have denounced the killing of Khashoggi and alongside US legislators, have long called for the release of the report.