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Saudi Arabia’s Hushed Washington Visit

The visit of Khalid bin Salman has been met with little fanfare and proves Saudi Arabia is far from the “pariah” of Biden’s campaign pledge.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Saudi Vice Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman waits for the beginning of a bilateral meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
Saudi Vice Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman waits for the beginning of a bilateral meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on Aug. 29. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Prince Khalid bin Salman continues Washington visit, the United Nations calls for talks on Ethiopian dam dispute, and Iran takes steps to produce enriched uranium metal.

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Khalid bin Salman Gets Quiet D.C. Welcome

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Prince Khalid bin Salman continues Washington visit, the United Nations calls for talks on Ethiopian dam dispute, and Iran takes steps to produce enriched uranium metal.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Khalid bin Salman Gets Quiet D.C. Welcome

Prince Khalid bin Salman, the son of Saudi King Salman and brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, meets with State Department officials Wednesday on a trip to Washington that the White House would rather not talk about.

Prince Khalid’s visit was not publicly announced by either U.S. or Saudi officials and is the highest-profile visit by a Saudi official since the Biden administration declassified an intelligence assessment surrounding the killing of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit squad in Istanbul in 2018. On Tuesday, he met with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin; Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Pariah no more? There is nothing unusual about a representative of a U.S. regional partner meeting with U.S. officials. (Prince Khalid is Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister.) However, the lack of fanfare underlines the Biden administration’s wariness in dealing with a government that then-candidate Joe Biden promised to treat as a “pariah” for human rights abuses, chief among them the killing of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and critic of the Saudi government.

In 2018, Prince Khalid was serving as the Saudi ambassador to Washington—at 29, the youngest to hold the position. In public interviews shortly after Khashoggi’s killing, the prince repeatedly denied Saudi involvement. A CIA intelligence report later alleged that Prince Khalid called Khashoggi personally to assure him of his safety before he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul—an assessment the Saudi government denies.

A recalibration? Biden initially held true to his promise that “America will never again check its principles at the door just to buy oil or sell weapons,” when he announced a pause in proposed weapons sales to the kingdom; the decision will likely be watered down to a suspension in the sale of air-to-ground offensive weaponry.

Yemen negotiations. Aside from bilateral ties, U.S. officials will likely bring up the war in Yemen, where peace plans between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels have yet to advance. Writing in Foreign Policy in June, Annelle Sheline argued that both the U.S. and Saudi positions fail to acknowledge that the Houthis have effectively defeated the Saudis in Yemen and that the current peace plans “could encourage them to keep fighting rather than accept a truce.”


What We’re Following Today

GERD tensions. The United Nations urged Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt to reopen talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam after Ethiopia began filling the dam’s reservoir on Monday. Both Egypt and Sudan have pushed for an international agreement on how the dam is operated, fearing that their access to the waters of the Nile River will be restricted. Egypt’s irrigation ministry expressed its “firm rejection of this unilateral measure” late Monday and said the move was a “violation of international laws and norms that regulate projects built on the shared basins of international rivers.” The topic is likely to come up at the U.N. Security Council meeting this week at the request of Arab states.

Pfizer vs. Delta. Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine showed reduced performance against the delta variant of the coronavirus compared with other strains, a new Israeli study has found. The vaccine was found to be 64 percent effective against infection, a drop from the 94 percent efficacy against previous variants. The study suggested a stronger protection—93 percent efficacy—against serious illness and hospitalization. Both Pfizer and Israeli health authorities have cautioned that the findings were based on preliminary data. 

The new Big Five. The U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday canceled a cloud computing contract with Microsoft that would have eventually been worth $10 billion. The move puts an end to a legal challenge brought by Amazon, which contended that the company was not considered fairly in the bidding process in part because of then-President Donald Trump’s animosity toward Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The Pentagon will instead separate the cloud program previously known as Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure into smaller parts in a renamed Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability. The move now means that Silicon Valley’s five cloud computing giants—Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle—could all potentially win contracts with the program.


Keep an Eye On  

Iran nuclear worries. Iran has begun the process of making enriched uranium metal, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Tuesday, a move that the United States called an “unfortunate step backwards” while France, Germany, and the United Kingdom said the process fulfilled “no credible civilian need.” Development of uranium metal was banned under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal due to its use in the core of a nuclear weapon. Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s representative at indirect U.S.-Iran negotiations in Vienna, noted Iran’s breach of the deal on Twitter while offering a reminder that Biden’s failure to lift Trump-era sanctions on Iran also constitutes a breach. Ulyanov said another round of Vienna talks and a full restoration of the deal were the “only way out of this vicious circle.” 

Nicaragua’s crackdown. EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell suggested that “more restrictive” measures may be taken against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega after police arrested at least 27 opposition figures over the past month. The arrests have intensified ahead of an Aug. 2 registration deadline to challenge Ortega in elections on Nov. 7. “The situation has reached such an extreme that member states will have to study more concrete actions, and not just ‘enough already, Mr. Ortega,’” Borrell told the European Parliament on Tuesday.


Odds and Ends

A large-scale trial of a four-day workweek in Iceland proved an “overwhelming success,” according to the authors of a new report that analyzed worker productivity and well-being over a 2017-2019 trial period. The study, which involved the participation of 2,500 people—or 1 percent of Iceland’s working population—found that productivity largely remained the same or improved across participating industries as workers were able to exercise more, reduce stress, take care of errands, and spend more time with their families. Some workplaces even found an increase in applicants when a four-day workweek was mentioned in job advertisements.

The results of the trial have had concrete effects on Iceland’s working culture: 86 percent of workers now work shorter hours or have the right to shorten their hours, according to the study’s authors.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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