A group of Democratic lawmakers are urging Joe Biden take greater caution with Saudi Arabia amid reports that he plans to travel there this summer, specifically that the US president take steps to distance the United States from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in almost unheard of Congressional dissent over historically close US-Saudi ties.
The New York Times on Tuesday was the first to report on a letter delivered to President Biden, drafted by California Democrat Rep. Adam B. Schiff and signed by a handful of other influential Dems, which calls on the president to "recalibrate" the US-Saudi relationship - coming years after the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of a Saudi hit team at the Istanbul consulate.
While stopping short of calling on the president to cancel the trip altogether, the letter makes the case that any near-future engagement with the kingdom must be strive at "recalibrating that relationship to serve America’s national interests."
Importantly, the letter lashes out at MbS himself, expressly refuting claims that he's a "reformer" - and demanding accountability for Khashoggi's killing, stressing this should be a top US priority.
It's in the following that the letter takes the crown prince and current de facto ruler of the country to task over persistent human rights abuses. The Congressional Democratic critique appears to emphasize that the Khashoggi affair wasn't an isolated event, but that bin Salman has remained unrepentant as well as gone unpunished, leading to further human rights crackdowns with impunity:
Finally, recent mass executions and Saudi pressure on Turkey to cease the trial for Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder bely claims that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pursuing genuine reforms.
Until Saudi Arabia shows signs of charting a different course, and in light of deliberations regarding a potential visit to the Kingdom during which you may have an opportunity to meet with King Salman and other regional heads of state, we encourage you to redouble your efforts to recalibrate the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
The letter's additional signatories, as Axios lists, include "Gregory Meeks, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Adam Smith, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform; Bennie Thompson, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee; and Stephen Lynch, who chairs the Subcommittee on National Security on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform."
The other more interesting and unprecedented criticism the letter presents (unprecedented, that is, for high-ranking Congressional Democrats to publicly express) is that it calls out the Saudis for working with China to build ballistic missiles.
On this point, the letter says, "Public reports indicate that Saudi Arabia is pursuing greater strategic cooperation with China, including further ballistic missile acquisitions. We urge you to make clear that partnership with China in ways that undermine U.S. national security interests will have a lasting negative impact on the U.S.-Saudi relationship."
The letter offers critiques of recent Saudi actions on a variety of issues, including related to the war in Ukraine...
Senior House Democrats urge Biden to overhaul the US relationship with Saudi Arabia ahead of his trip there. "Saudi Arabia’s refusal to stabilize global energy markets is helping bankroll Vladimir Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine": pic.twitter.com/E58X4hQ3tf— Jared Malsin (@jmalsin) June 7, 2022
According to background in the NY Times, "Saudi Arabia has bought short-range ballistic missiles from China for years. But in the last two years, that relationship has intensified, even as the United States and China have grown more adversarial."
Further, as the Times points out, "The Saudis are now buying more capable missiles that can travel farther, and they are acquiring the technology to create their own components, set up production facilities and conduct test launches, U.S. officials say, with the apparent goal of being able to produce their own missiles in the future."