WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by phone on Tuesday, discussing Riyadh’s role in Middle East stability, maintaining pressure on Iran and the importance of human rights issues, the White House said.
Washington’s Middle East ally faces rising pressure over its handling of the war in Yemen and moves to stifle internal dissent, including the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and prosecution of women’s rights activists.
A bipartisan chorus of U.S. lawmakers has called on the White House to harden its stance towards Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
U.S. intelligence believes the crown prince ordered the killing, which Saudi officials deny.
Trump has said the U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia is important for the U.S. economy and maintaining stability in the region.
The U.S. State Department on Monday publicly designated 16 people for their role in Khashoggi’s death and said they and their families would be barred from entering the United States.
The United States on Monday also designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation, drawing an angry reaction from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday.
The White House said Trump used the call with the crown prince to discuss ways of “maintaining maximum pressure against Iran.” Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition battling Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents in Yemen.
(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Peter Cooney)