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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday to reaffirm the "strategic defense partnership" between the two nations and discuss recent changes to U.S. policy on Yemen, the Pentagon said.

Why it matters: The call comes just days after the White House said it would "recalibrate" its relationship with Saudi Arabia, and return to "counterpart to counterpart" engagement, with President Biden's counterpart being King Salman, not MBS.

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki's comments were widely seen as a snub to the crown prince, who is considered by many as the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia.

The big picture: Since taking office, the Biden administration has announced the end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition's offensive operations in Yemen, reversed the Trump administration's decision to designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terror group, and paused an arms deal with the kingdom.

  • The Biden administration is also set to release a U.S. intelligence report that concluded that MBS ordered the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, per the Washington Post.
  • Yes, but: Axios' Barak Ravid reported last week that "the Saudi government was sending signals that it's ready to cooperate on Yemen and make improvements on human rights in an effort to avoid a crisis with Biden."

What they're saying: "The Secretary condemned the recent Houthi cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and expressed his commitment to assisting Saudi Arabia in the defense of its borders," the Pentagon said in a readout of the call between Austin and MBS.

  • "Secretary Austin reiterated recent changes in U.S. policy toward the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen, discussed the importance of ending the war, and thanked the Crown Prince for Saudi Arabia’s commitment to a political settlement," it added.
  • Austin "underscored Saudi Arabia’s role as a pillar of the regional security architecture in the Middle East and the importance of sharing the responsibility of regional security and stability. "
  • "Secretary Austin noted US and Saudi shared commitment to countering Iran’s destabilizing activities and defeating violent extremist organizations in the region."

Go deeper: Saudi Arabia moves to ease tensions with Biden on Yemen, human rights

Go deeper

Feb 18, 2021 - World

Austin warns of NATO threats and signals new era of cooperation with allies

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on Wednesday. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin signaled a new era of cooperation during a NATO meeting Wednesday while warning of the threat from "strategic competitors," per a news conference with Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.

Why it matters: Austin's first meeting with NATO defense ministers marks a clear shift from the previous administration. Relations with European allies became so strained under former President Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron referred to NATO as "brain dead."

Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress

Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden told congressional leadership in a letter Saturday that this week's airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to Iranian-backed militia groups was consistent with the U.S. right to self-defense.

Why it matters: Some Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have criticized the Biden administration for the strike and demanded a briefing.

6 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes Johnson & Johnson's one-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: The authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. will help speed up the vaccine rollout across the country, especially since the J&J shot only requires one dose as opposed to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's two-shot vaccines.