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President Biden holds first call with King Salman of Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON (Axios): President Biden spoke with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Thursday, and affirmed “the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” according to a White House readout of the conversation.

Why it matters: The phone call comes ahead of the expected public release of a potentially damning intelligence report about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi,

Context: The report, an unclassified document produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, implies Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s son, was involved in Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, Axios’ Hans Nichols reports.

Bin Salman has denied involvement, but accepted responsibility as the kingdom’s de facto leader.

The big picture: Biden and the king also discussed Yemen and the “the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups”, according to the readout.

Biden applauded the kingdom’s release of multiple Saudi-American activists and Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent women’s rights activist.

The readout did not specifically mention Khashoggi.

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