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Feb. 25, 2021, 5:42 p.m. EST

Biden set to reveal U.S. intelligence findings on Saudi leadership role in Khashoggi killing that Trump administration kept under wraps

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Associated Press

The United States has pledged to tell the world its conclusions on what role Saudi Arabia’s crown prince played in the brutal killing and carving up of a U.S.-based journalist, but as important is what comes next — what the Biden administration plans to do about it.

Ahead of the release of the declassified U.S. intelligence report, President Joe Biden was expected to speak to Saudi King Salman as soon as Thursday for the first time since taking office more than a month ago. It will be a later-than-usual courtesy call to the Middle East ally, timing that itself reflects Biden’s displeasure.

The conversation will be overshadowed by the expected imminent release of findings on whether the king’s son approved the Oct. 2, 2018, killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s authoritarian consolidation of power, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Market Extra (June 2017): 4 things to know about Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in 2018 that the prince likely ordered the killing, a finding reported by news media but never officially released.

Biden pledged as a candidate to make Saudi Arabia “a pariah” over the killing. The prince’s critics, including a rights group founded by the slain journalist, want him to make good on that pledge with sanctions or other tough actions targeting and isolating the prince. They fear Biden will go with condemnation instead, eschewing a lasting standoff with the likely future ruler of an important, but often difficult, U.S. strategic ally, valued both for its oil reserves and its status as a counterbalance to Iran in the Middle East.

From the archives (December 2018): U.S. senators conclude the Saudi crown prince ordered journalist’s killing

Plus (November 2018): Trump says Saudi crown prince may not have known about Khashoggi killing

The killing drew bipartisan outrage. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said Thursday he hopes Biden talks to the king “very straight about it, and very emphatically, and says that this is not acceptable.” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he understood the administration to be considering new sanctions to accompany release of the report. “So it’s a day of reckoning, but one that’s long overdue.”

The report’s findings, and Biden’s resulting next steps, at a minimum will set the administration’s tone for dealing with the ambitious 35-year-old prince.

Critics blame Mohammed bin Salman for the kingdom’s imprisonment and alleged torture of peaceful rights advocates, businesspeople and other royals at home and for launching a devastating war in neighboring Yemen and a failed economic blockade against neighboring Qatar, among other actions.

Mohammed bin Salman has consolidated power rapidly since his father, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, in his 80s, became king in 2015. Salman is one of the last living sons of modern Saudi Arabia’s original founder.

Given his age and Saudi royals’ longevity, the prince could rule for the next half-century, if he follows his aging father to the throne.

“This was in the span of two or three years — just imagine what will happen in the next 40 years if they allow him to rule,” Abdullah al Oudh, a Saudi man who has received asylum in the United States after Saudi Arabia imprisoned al Oudh’s father in 2017 over a tweet urging Saudi reconciliation with Qatar, said Thursday.

“This guy … sees the world as a stage for his botched operations,” said Oudh, a Gulf research director for Democracy for the Arab World Now, a rights group Khashoggi founded shortly before his murder.

See: Khashoggi documentary goes to on-demand after proving too controversial for streaming services

The Saudi Arabia Embassy spokesman in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Saudi officials have said Khashoggi’s killing was the work of rogue Saudi security and intelligence officials.

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