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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

2 hours ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.

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