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Blinken speaks to Saudi minister, repeats U.S. call for rights progress

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about infrastructure investment at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering in College Park
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about infrastructure investment at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering in College Park, MD, U.S., August 9, 2021. Patrick Semansky/Pool via REUTERS

August 9, 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Monday and repeated a call for progress on human rights.

A State Department statement said Blinken and the Saudi minister discussed regional security and the attack last month on the tanker Mercer Street in the Arabian Sea, which Washington blames on Iran, and other regional issues.

They also discussed bolstering security cooperation, Saudi support for a comprehensive ceasefire in Yemen and the need for immediate steps to mitigate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, it said.

“Secretary Blinken emphasized the need for progress on human rights,” the statement added, echoing a U.S. statement from July after Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister held talks in Washington with U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

The State Department statement made no mention of the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, which took place when President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, was in office.

Biden shook the relationship with Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally, by allowing the release in February of an unclassified U.S. intelligence report that found that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is known as MbS, approved the operation in which Khashoggi was killed.

Riyadh denies that MbS was involved.

Biden also ended U.S. support for offensive operations by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. But he has deflected calls by lawmakers and human rights groups for sanctions on MbS.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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