US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who travelled to the Gulf last week but did not visit Saudi Arabia, still hopes to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Pentagon said Monday.
Austin travelled to the Gulf to thank US allies for their support during the massive airlift set up after the fall of the Afghan government and the Taliban capture of Kabul on August 15.
He visited Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait — but with relations with Saudi Arabia considerably cooler since Joe Biden became US president, a planned stopover in Saudi Arabia did not take place.
The trip “didn’t happen for some scheduling issues that we understood were on the Saudi side,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
Nevertheless, Austin is “absolutely” willing to meet the crown prince.
“He is the defence minister for Saudi Arabia and we have a strong defence partnership with Saudi Arabia … We fully expect that we’ll get a chance to get this rescheduled. It was postponed, it wasn’t cancelled forever,” Kirby said.
When running for president Joe Biden vowed to make the Saudi leaders “pay” for their role in the murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Pentagon says U.S. Defense Secretary Austin would have liked to go to Saudi Arabia on his recent trip to the Middle East but there were "scheduling issues" from Riyadh's side.
— Idrees Ali (@idreesali114) September 13, 2021
Once president Biden declassified an intelligence report that found that the crown prince — also known as MBS — ordered the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post who was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
But the US government did not sanction the crown prince in order to avoid an open crisis with the Gulf oil kingdom.
© Agence France-Presse with inputs from GVS