Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister visited Washington on Tuesday and met with several top Biden administration officials. Khalid bin Salman, the brother of de facto Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is the first high-level Saudi official to visit Washington since President Biden came into office.
Tuesday also marked the first time a top Saudi official traveled to Washington since the US released an intelligence assessment that implicated MbS in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Khashoggi could be a topic discussed between bin Salman and Biden officials, but no readouts of the meetings mentioned the slain journalist.
The Pentagon said bin Salman met with Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley briefly joined the meeting, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also met with bin Salman. It seemed the main topic of each meeting was “defending” Saudi territory from Houthi attacks. The White House said Sullivan and bin Salman discussed “the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups.”
The “Iranian-aligned groups” the two officials discussed are likely the Houthis, who are not the Iranian proxy Washington portrays them to be. The Houthis are a homegrown Yemeni Zaydi Shia movement.
While they are supported politically by Iran, it’s not clear if Tehran provides the Houthis with arms. What is clear is the fact that the US has given Riyadh its full support to wage a vicious siege on Yemen that has been ongoing since 2015. If not for the siege, the Houthis would not be launching attacks inside Saudi territory. But this detail is usually missing from US statements.
In February, President Biden vowed to end support for Saudi Arabia’s “offensive” operations in Yemen. But a few months later, the Pentagon admitted it is still servicing Saudi warplanes that are bombing Yemen. Without US support, Riyadh’s air force would quickly be grounded. The Biden administration also refuses to pressure Saudi Arabia into ending the blockade on Yemen despite UN warnings that 400,000 Yemeni children will starve to death in 2021 if conditions don’t change.