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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

Ben Geman, author of Generate
19 mins ago - Energy & Environment

China vows end to building coal-fired power plants abroad

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Mary Altaffer - Pool/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday that his country "will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad" and plans to boost support for clean energy in developing nations.

Why it matters: The pledge, if maintained, would mark a breakthrough in efforts to transition global power away from the most carbon-emitting fuel.

House Democrats strip Iron Dome money from government funding bill

Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Democrats on Tuesday stripped $1 billion for Israel's Iron Dome defense system from its short-term government funding bill after backlash from progressives, people familiar with the decision tell Axios.

Why it matters: There has never a situation where military aid for Israel was held up because of objections from members of Congress. While the funding will get a vote in its current defense bill, the clash underscores the deep divisions within the Democratic party over Israel.

Oversight Board calls for more Facebook transparency

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Facebook Oversight Board on Tuesday called on the social media giant to "commit to transparency" in the wake of a Wall Street Journal report last week that millions of high-profile users get special treatment by content moderators.

Why it matters: Although initially funded by Facebook, the Oversight Board operates independently as a kind of Supreme Court for the platform. The company has agreed to obey its rulings on specific content disputes, but the board's broader policy advice is strictly on a "recommendation" basis.

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