Signals: Biden to release CIA report fingering Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi hit

This conclusion was already well-known, having been leaked to the media over two years ago. Joe Biden’s decision to release it officially, however, sets a very different tone for relations with Saudi Arabia for the next four years:

The Biden administration will release an intelligence report Thursday that concludes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, three U.S. officials familiar with the matter said.

The intelligence assessment, based largely on work by the CIA, is not new — NBC News was among the organizations that confirmed it in 2018.

But its public release will mark a significant new chapter in the U.S.-Saudi relationship and a clear break by President Joe Biden with former President Donald Trump’s policy of equivocating about the Saudi state’s role in a brutal murder that was widely condemned by members of Congress, journalists and a U.N. investigator.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden wanted to “recalibrate” relations with the Saudis. Part of that recalibration is an attempt to cut out the crown prince. The White House made clear that Biden will address this with King Salman and not MBS, with whom the Trump administration preferred to work.

The release of the report — and more importantly, the very official and high-level release of the report — is clearly intended to demonstrate official displeasure with MBS. Biden was pretty clear about that during the presidential campaign too, so neither Salman nor MBS can be terribly surprised by this escalation of pressure. Biden has already reversed course on weapons sales and taken steps to curtail Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Iran in Yemen, neither of which concerned the Trump administration as much as getting the Saudis to start dealing directly with the Israelis and solidifying the Sunni Arab front against Iran.

That might get put at risk with these moves, or perhaps it won’t. Those moves still benefit the Saudis, and it has allowed them to finally get some distance from the Palestinians.  If Biden hopes to get Salman to shuffle the succession again and force MBS out, it’s probably too late for that, given the latter’s moves to consolidate his power. This might be a safe moment for Biden to demonstrate some outrage without risking the gains of the last few years. Or at least that’s the gamble Biden’s taking in this “recalibration.”