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Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AFP via Getty Images

The Saudi government is sending signals that it's ready to cooperate on Yemen and make improvements on human rights in an effort to avoid a crisis with President Biden.

Driving the news: Two events on Wednesday underscored those efforts: prominent women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who led the fight to allow Saudi women to drive, was released from prison; and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan met in Riyadh with the new U.S. envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking.

Flashback: On the campaign trail, Biden accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, stressed that he wouldn't sell weapons to the Saudis and promised to "make them the pariah that they are." 

  • Now in office, Biden has frozen an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, announced the halt of U.S. support for offensive operations in Yemen, and rolled back Donald Trump's designation of Yemen's Houthi rebels as a terror group.

The other side: The Saudis haven't criticized Biden's moves publicly, and are trying to navigate the new reality through private talks with the administration.

  • Saudi deputy defense minister Khalid Bin Salman, the crown prince's brother and confidant, seized on the one positive line in Biden's recent foreign policy speech, in which he said the U.S. would help Saudi Arabia defend itself.
  • Meanwhile bin Farhan welcomed Lenderking's appointment despite Biden's shift on Yemen. On Wednesday they discussed ways to find a political solution to the crisis, according to the Saudi foreign ministry.
  • The release of al-Hathloul after 2.5 years in prison is another indication that the Saudis want to avoid a clash with Biden over human rights. Her arrest had caused outrage around the world

The important step from the crown prince may ultimately be the announcement on Monday of major legal and judicial reforms that will establish civil law in the country for the first time, in addition to Islamic law.

  • “The absence of applicable legislation has led to discrepancies in decisions and a lack of clarity in the principles governing facts and practices. … This was painful for many individuals and families, especially women, permitting some to evade their responsibilities," the Crown Prince said.
  • The timing of the announcement looks like a signal to the Biden administration.

Worth noting: Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke to bin Farhan on Friday, after he'd already spoken to several other Arab foreign ministers. In the call, he stressed the need for the Saudis to take steps on human rights and end the war in Yemen.

Go deeper

60 mins ago - Health

CDC panel recommends Pfizer boosters for high-risk individuals, people 65 and up

Photo: Marco Bello/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A key panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus booster shots for people 65 years old and older, as well as those at high risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: The approval is the near-final step in making the booster shots available to tens of millions of Americans, and comes a day after the FDA approved Pfizer boosters for the two groups. CDC director Rochelle Walensky is expected to accept the recommendation.

DHS temporarily suspends use of horse patrol in Del Rio

U.S. Border Patrol agents watch as Haitian immigrant families cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into Del Rio, Texas on Sept. 23, 2021. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday temporarily suspended the use of horse patrol in Del Rio, Texas a DHS spokesperson confirmed.

Why it matters: The suspension comes after images showing border patrol agents whipping at and charging their horses at migrants surfaced earlier in the week, prompting widespread criticism of the Biden administration's handling of the crisis at the border.

Southwest drought is worst on record, NOAA finds

In a stark new report, a team of NOAA and independent researchers found the 2020-2021 drought across the Southwest is the worst in the instrumental record, which dates to 1895.

Why it matters: They also concluded that global warming is making it far more severe, primarily by increasing average temperatures, which boosts evaporation.

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