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US security advisor heads to Saudi Arabia in first under Biden

Published on September 27, 2021

US President Joe Biden’s national security advisor will visit Saudi Arabia in the highest-level talks since the administration took office, with vows to recalibrate the relationship due to human rights concerns, the White House announced Monday.

Jake Sullivan will also travel to the United Arab Emirates, another US ally which had developed especially tight ties with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump.

The White House did not give details on the dates or the nature of his message, but said Sullivan would be accompanied by officials including Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy on Yemen.

Biden, shortly after taking office in January, said the United States would slash US support for the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen that has contributed to what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with more than half the population reliant on aid.

But the Biden administration has been frustrated that Iranian-backed Huthi rebels, who already control Yemen’s capital Sanaa, have shown little interest in a ceasefire and are pursuing an offensive for the key city of Marib, with hundreds reported dead in September.

Biden in February also declassified intelligence on the gruesome murder of Saudi dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident who was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul three years ago and then strangled and dismembered.

The intelligence said that Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, approved of the operation. The Biden administration stopped short of imposing sanctions on him but indicated he was not welcome to visit Washington.

Unlike Biden, the previous administration had few qualms about dealing with Saudi Arabia, with Trump hailing the oil-rich kingdom’s purchases of US weapons and shared hostility toward Iran.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia earlier in September while in the region but put off his trip, citing scheduling issues.