US President Joe Biden intends to “recalibrate” the US’ relationship with Saudi Arabia and would emphasize outreach to Saudi Arabian King Salman, a move that signals a downgrade in ties with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, the nation’s de facto ruler.
In Biden’s first few days in office, the US put a hold on some key weapons sales to the kingdom and announced new efforts to bring an end to the Saudi Arabian-led war in Yemen.
Biden has also called on Riyadh to improve its human rights record.
“We’re going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday.
“Part of that is going back to engagement counterpart-to-counterpart. The president’s counterpart is King Salman,” she said.
Instead of engaging primarily with Biden, the crown prince’s most appropriate counterpart is US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a person familiar with the matter said.
While Prince Mohammad’s official role is deputy prime minister and defense minister, he has a vast range of responsibilities as heir to the throne his father has held since 2015.
The changes suggest that relations would return to “more structured, routine channels,” said Aaron Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Middle East official at the US Department of State.
“This is a slapdown of MBS, who the administration views as reckless and ruthless,” Miller said, referring to Prince Mohammad.
Separately, Biden said that China would pay a price for its human rights abuses.
Responding to queries at a televised event on Beijing’s handling of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, Biden said that “there will be repercussions for China and [Chinese President Xi Jinping, 習近平] knows that.”
Xi has drawn global criticism for holding Uighurs in internment camps and other human rights abuses.
The US would reassert its global role in speaking up for human rights, Biden said, adding that he would work with the international community to get China to protect them.
“China is trying very hard to become a world leader and to get that moniker and be able to do that they have to gain the confidence of other countries,” he said.
“As long as they are engaged in activity that is contrary to basic human rights, it is going to be hard for them to do that,” he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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