Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met quietly Monday with the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, and the two men discussed continued “cooperation” between the two nations in fighting terrorism, according to Riyadh’s state-run news agency.
The meeting, which appears to have been kept under wraps until its conclusion, comes at a time of increased tension between the two countries over Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and the death last October of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.
Khashoggi’s death inside the consulate sparked a massive American backlash and fueled a narrative that the U.S. is willing to look past major human-rights violations by Saudi Arabia in order to preserve a key geopolitical partnership.
The incident also led Congress to take new action to cut off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has faced widespread accusations of civilian deaths in Yemen, including some deaths inflicted with weapons it purchased from the U.S.
It’s unclear whether the Saudi crown prince and Gen. McKenzie discussed those issues. A brief press release Monday evening from the Saudi Press Agency described the meeting only in general terms.
“During the meeting, they reviewed aspects of cooperation between the two friendly countries particularly in the military field, joint efforts being exerted in fighting terrorism and combating extremism, and latest developments in the region,” the press release said.
Other top U.S. military and diplomatic officials also attended the meeting, Saudi press reported.