President Biden plans to hold his first conversation with the ailing Saudi monarch, King Salman this week. And while the call will be full of diplomatic pleasantries, officials say, the real purpose is for Mr. Biden to warn that the United States will soon declassify and publish an intelligence report about the killing of the dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The report will make public the American intelligence conclusions about the role of Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince and the de facto leader of the country, in Mr. Khashoggi’s death.
The White House would say little about the carefully sequenced set of events, other than that no conversation between the two men had yet been scheduled — though clearly one was in the works.
“The president’s intention, as is the intention of this government, is to recalibrate our engagement with Saudi Arabia,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday.
While the Trump administration dealt at length with the crown prince — who was frequently in contact with Jared Kushner, former President Donald J. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser — Mr. Biden is taking the position that King Salman is still the country’s leader, and the only one he will talk with directly. Since the crown prince serves as the defense minister, he has been told to communicate with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.
But the issue of protocol is less important than the sharp shift in the way the Saudis are being treated.
The content of the assessment, chiefly written by the C.I.A., is no mystery: In November 2018, The New York Times reported that intelligence officials had concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, who was drugged and dismembered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The agency buttressed the conclusion with two sets of communications: intercepts of the crown prince’s calls in the days before the killing and calls by the kill team to a senior aide to the crown prince.
The Trump administration issued sanctions against 17 Saudis involved in the killing. But the administration never declassified the findings — even stripped of the sources and methods — and avoided questions about Prince Mohammed. Senior Trump officials often got angry when asked about their commitment to follow the evidence. They often asked in return whether the United States should abandon a major alliance because of the death of a single dissident and journalist.
Mr. Biden’s view was the opposite. Now Saudi officials are trying to figure out whether the new president seeks to isolate the future Saudi ruler — and will try to prevent him from becoming the nation’s leader — by imposing sanctions on him and leaving him open to criminal prosecution.