Saudi Arabia is moving to release some political prisoners and repair relations with regional rivals as it prepares for a policy reset with U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.
Since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) became Saudi’s de facto ruler in 2015, the 35-year-old prince has pursued a series of provocative foreign policy ventures.
During the 2020 election campaign, Democrat candidate Joe Biden had harsh words for Saudi Arabia, one of the United States’ key partners in the Middle East, mostly condemning the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
The Biden administration has ended “soft” support in Yemen that the coalition received under President Donald Trump’s administration — notably weapons, intelligence and logistics. The decision came following an order to block smart-bomb technology to Saudi Arabia for use in the war.
Biden has also called on Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record.
MbS triggered global outrage after the 2018 assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
According to several U.S. lawmakers, MbS deserves ultimate responsibility for the assassination. Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur for extrajudicial or arbitrary executions, made a similar assessment in June 2019, issuing a report that called it “inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the Crown Prince being aware, at a minimum.”
Biden’s Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, has said she intends to declassify a CIA intelligence report into Khashoggi’s murder. The Post reports that the CIA concluded with a high degree of confidence that the Crown Prince ordered the assassination — Riyadh denies his involvement.
MbS’s other foreign policy adventures include:
Partially cutting ties with Canada.
Waging a bitter oil price war with Russia.
Qatar’s three-year blockade.
Imposing an unofficial trade boycott with Turkey.