This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. President Donald Trump has spoken with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a telephone call that the White House says focused on Riyadh’s role in Middle East stability, maintaining pressure on Iran, and the importance of human rights issues.
The White House said Trump and the crown prince discussed ways of “maintaining maximum pressure against Iran.” Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition battling Iranian-backed Huthi fighters in Yemen.
But Saudi Arabia is facing rising pressure over its handling of the war in Yemen and moves to quell political dissent, including the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the prosecution of women’s rights activists.
Both Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers have called on the White House to harden its stance toward Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
U.S. intelligence officials have said they think the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing — a claim that Saudi officials deny.
Trump has said the U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia is important for the U.S. economy and maintaining stability in the Middle East.
The U.S. State Department on April 9 publicly designated 16 people for their role in Khashoggi’s death and said they and their families would be barred from entering the United States.
The list includes Saud al-Qahtani, a former aide to the crown prince, and Maher Mutreb, who was part of the crown prince’s entourage on trips outside of Saudi Arabia.
Washington on April 8 also designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a “foreign terrorist organization” in a move that drew an angry reaction from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the following day.