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King Salman speaks during the 2020 U.N. General Assembly. Photo: Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden plans to call Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Wednesday, ahead of the public release of a potentially damning intelligence report about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a source briefed on the call told Axios.

Why it matters: The call, if it happens as scheduled, will be Biden’s first conversation as president with the Saudi king. While they are likely to discuss a range of issues, the conversation will be colored by the imminent release of the explosive report expected to involve one of the monarch's sons.

  • The report, an unclassified document produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for expected release on Thursday, implies Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
  • Bin Salman has denied involvement but accepted responsibility as the kingdom's de facto leader.

Biden is moving to recalibrate the Saudi relationship after the Trump administration made Riyadh's preferences in the Persian Gulf a priority for U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. both withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and failed to take action for the murder of Khashoggi, who was a Washington Post columnist.

  • During the 2020 campaign, Biden accused the crown prince of ordering the murder, stressed he wouldn't sell weapons to the Saudis and promised to "make them the pariah that they are."
  • The Saudi government has recently been sending signals that it's ready to cooperate on the civil war in Yemen and make improvements on human rights in an effort to avoid a crisis with the new administration, Axios' Barak Ravid has reported.

The intrigue: Biden will be speaking with the 85-year-old king, who technically is the head of government, instead of his son, known as MBS, the nation's heir apparent.

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki previewed the differentiation last week when she said: “The president’s counterpart is King Salman.”
  • “I expect that, in appropriate time, [Biden] would have a conversation with him," referring to King Salman.
  • A spokesperson for the National Security Council would not confirm Biden’s scheduled call Wednesday. The State Department referred an inquiry about the call to the White House.
  • Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with MBS, who is also the country's defense minister, last week.

The big picture: Avril Haines, the nation's top intelligence official, pledged during her Senate confirmation hearing that the Biden administration would release the intelligence report.

  • “Yes, senator. Actually, we’ll follow the law,” she replied to a question about the report's release.

Go deeper

Lawmakers call for Israel-Hamas ceasefire amid aerial bombardments

Combination images of Republican Sen. Todd Young and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy. Photo: Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images/Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and 28 Senate Democrats on Sunday called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas as fighting continued into the night.

Driving the news: In the first bipartisan call for a ceasefire, Young, a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, joined its Chair Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) a statement saying: "Israel has the right to defend itself from Hamas' rocket attacks, in a manner proportionate with the threat its citizens are facing.

Bill Gates faces scrutiny over relationship with Microsoft employee, Epstein ties

Photo: Alessandro Di Ciommo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Representatives for Bill Gates pushed back on claims Sunday that he left Microsoft's board because of an earlier sexual relationship and against two other reports detailing more extensive ties with Jeffrey Epstein than had previously been reported.

Driving the news: Microsoft said in an emailed statement to Axios that it "received a concern" in 2019 that its co-founder "sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000," but denied a Wall Street Journal report that its board members thought Gates should resign over the matter.

AT&T in talks with Discovery to combine media assets

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

AT&T is in talks with media giant Discovery about merging its media assets, like CNN, TBS and TNT, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

Why it matters: A potential merger could allow AT&T and Discovery to better compete with entertainment giants like Disney and Netflix in the video streaming wars.

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