Fri, 10 Apr 2020

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he plans to discuss human rights issues with Saudi leaders during a visit to the country, particularly the plight of a Saudi-American doctor who is facing charges there.

Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for a three-day visit, when he will meet with King Salmon, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, the U.S. State Department said.

Pompeo said he will speak with the Saudi leaders about Saudi-American physician Walid Fitaihi, who was detained in November 2017 amid the Saudi prince's unprecedented anti-corruption crackdown that detained ministers, senior princes and businessmen."

I'm sure I'll bring up that issue and a wide range of human rights issues, as well," Pompeo told reporters in Addis Ababa before flying to Saudi Arabia.

About 200 people were detained for weeks and months in a hotel in Riyadh and forced to relinquish billions of dollars in assets to the Saudi government.

Fitaihi, who was detained on unspecified charges, was freed last summer. But he and seven of his relatives who are also U.S. citizens have been prohibited from leaving Saudi Arabia while he stands trial, according to U.S. Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel and Republican Congressman Michael McCaul.

The two U.S. lawmakers, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, submitted a letter to Pompeo on Tuesday urging him to discuss Fitaihi's case with Saudi leaders. They said Fitaihi was detained without being charged for nearly two years. Ahmed Fitaihi told members of the U.S. congress his father had been tortured and had infrequent contact with his family while he was detained.

Saudi Arabia, and the crown prince in particular, are under close global scrutiny for alleged human rights abuses. The prince's reputation was tarnished after Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi was living in exile and writing about the prince's crackdown when agents employed by the prince murdered him.

Pompeo said he will also discuss economic and security issues with Saudi leaders, particularly security matters involving Iran.

After departing Saudi Arabia, Pompeo will visit Oman - a close U.S. ally who also has relations with the Saudi Kingdom and Iran.

Pompeo ended a three-day tour of Africa Wednesday before leaving for Saudi Arabia.

Cindy Saine contributed to this report.

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