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On February 20, the second day of his Saudi Arabia visit, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi Arabia’s King Mohammed bin Salman to discuss mutual safety concerns involving Iran.
This was the first time that the US has formally revisited its concerns regarding Iran after the assassination of Iranian top commander General Qasem Soleimani on January 3 this year.
Iran blamed for Saudi oil facilities attack
In September 2019, two Saudi oil facilities were attacked by drones and missiles, an attack that is believed to have been perpetrated by Iranian forces.
According to Saudi officials, the debris was said to be a delta wing of an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). “Data recovered from the computers [on the UAV] shows it’s Iranian,” said Defence Ministry spokesperson Col. Turki al-Malki.
However, Iran has denied its involvement in the attacks after its allied Yemeni rebel Houthi group claimed responsibility.
Human rights concerns in Saudi Arabia
Prior to the visit to the Middle Eastern nation, Pompeo said that he would also discuss concerns over human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, specifically in cases involving dual Saudi-American citizens who are and have previously been detained in the kingdom.
The detainees include a Saudi humanitarian aid worker, Abdulrahman al-Sadhan who was reportedly detained without charge in March 2018. His family members hope to see Pompeo push for his release and that of other detainees in Saudi Arabia. “We have heard from families of other detainees who have seen him in the prison that he might die from torture,” said al-Sadhan’s sister.
According to London-based human rights group Al-Qst (ALQST), Saudi Arabia has detained at least eight people in November 2019, mostly intellectuals and writers. These series of arrests reportedly began after the premeditated murder of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.
When the Saudi crown prince was said to be linked to the killing of Khashoggi, it created significant tensions between the two nations. Prior to the incident, Saudi Arabia had been a US ally as well as the largest purchaser of US military arms for decades.
While US senators insisted on suspending military arms sales to the kingdom to “punish” the crown prince, US President Donald Trump reportedly refused to, stating: “I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States.”