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Khalid bin Salman meets top US officials days after Khashoggi murder anniversary

Former ambassador to US held talks with Secretary of State Pompeo and Pentagon chief Esper
Prince Khalid held talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pentagon chief Mike Esper on Wednesday (AFP/File photo)

Days after the first anniversary of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defence Minister Khalid bin Salman - who was serving as ambassador to the US at the time of the assassination - met with top officials in Washington.

Prince Khalid, who is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's younger brother, held talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pentagon chief Mike Esper on Wednesday.

The US State Department confirmed the meeting on Thursday, saying that Pompeo and Khalid discussed the "importance of bilateral cooperation to confront the Iranian regime’s continued destabilising activities in the region".

"The secretary thanked the deputy minister for his continued efforts to further a political resolution to the conflict in Yemen," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. "The secretary and the deputy minister also discussed the need to safeguard freedom of navigation and human rights."

Khalid, who initially denied that Khashoggi was murdered, faced a backlash after the Saudi journalist's assassination last year.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who lived in the US state of Virginia, was killed and dismembered by Saudi government agents at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

The slain journalist, who sometimes criticised Saudi policies, had gone to the consulate to retrieve personal paperwork that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancee

Saudi authorities first insisted that Khashoggi, who also wrote for Middle East Eye, had left the building alive. 

"I assure you that the reports that suggest that Jamal Khashoggi went missing in the consulate in Istanbul or that the kingdom’s authorities have detained him or killed him are absolutely false, and baseless," Khalid, then-ambassador to Washington, told an Axios reporter almost a week after the murder.

UN expert Agnes Callamard, who had concluded in a report released earlier this year that the assassination was a state act for which the kingdom was responsible, cited Khalid's denial in her investigation to highlight Saudi Arabia's cover-up campaign after the killing.

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Late last year, the Washington Post reported that Khalid had told Khashoggi to get the personal documents he was seeking from the consulate in Istanbul, assuring the journalist that he would be safe.

The report prompted calls for expelling Khalid from the United States. 

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to MEE's request for comment.

In February, Khalid was appointed deputy defence minister and replaced by Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan in Washington. 

Despite concerns about Khalid's possible role in the killing, President Donald Trump's administration has resisted calls to shun the Saudi royal. Pompeo also met with the former ambassador in March.

On Wednesday, Khalid said on Twitter that he had also held talks with Defense Secretary Esper.

"We reaffirmed the strong military cooperation in countering terrorism and preserving peace and stability," he wrote of the meeting.