- A newly declassified US intel report said the Saudi crown prince approved Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.
- Joe Biden announced new sanctions over the murder but has declined to punish the crown prince.
- A US official told The Washington Post it’s because Biden wanted to heal the US-Saudi relationship.
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President Joe Biden declined to punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi because he wants to reset his relationship with Saudi Arabia, The Washington Post reported, citing US officials.
The Saudi critic and Washington Post writer was dismembered and killed by Saudi State Security agents in Istanbul in October 2018, and a report declassified Friday by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence found that the crown prince directly approved the hit.
Throughout the 2020 election campaign Biden talked tough about holding Crown Prince Mohammed accountable for the murder and broader human-rights abuses, saying he would make the kingdom a “pariah.” The crown prince is also known by his initials, MBS.
However, his administration has declined to sanction the crown prince over the murder. The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Saudi officials last Friday, but none of them targeted Crown Prince Mohammed. The State Department also imposed visa restrictions – known as the “Khashoggi Ban” – on 76 Saudis connected to the killing, but did not release their names.
“Historically and even in recent history … there have not been sanctions put in place for the leaders of foreign governments where we have diplomatic relations,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told CNN on Sunday.
But according to a US official who spoke with The Washington Post, the decision was made to avoid future flare-ups with the crown prince, and for the US-Saudi relationship to start afresh.
“The unanimous conclusion [was] that there’s just more effective means to dealing with these issues going forward,” the official told The Post. “The aim is a recalibration, not a rupture.”
“We’ve been very clear with the Saudis that this is an historic partnership; it’s lasted for 75 years. But the reality here in the US and in Washington, is that the Saudis have lost both political parties … so that’s why we want to reset the foundation of this partnership,” the official said.
But for many critics, the Biden administration’s restrictions have been underwhelming, and the president’s inaction has been criticized by the crown prince’s opponents.
The Washington Post’s editorial board said on February 26 that Biden is granting “what amounts to a pass to a ruler who has sown instability around the Middle East in recent years while presiding over the most severe repression of dissent in modern Saudi history.”
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, also said in a statement: “If the crown prince is not punished, it will forever signal that the main culprit can get away with murder which will endanger us all and be a stain on our humanity.”
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, said on Saturday that it was “dangerous” and “problematic” not to sanction the crown prince.
Though the ODNI report directly pointed the finger at crown prince, back in Saudi Arabia the report was met with disdain.
Saudi commentators, social media users, and newspapers rallied behind their de facto leader, calling the report a damp squib that aimed only to smear Crown Prince Mohammed.
Though he has been criticized for it actions over the Khashoggi murder, Biden has somewhat already altered the US’s stance toward Saudi Arabia since taking office on January 20.
In early February, Biden ended the US support for the Saudi-backed war in Yemen, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Saudi Arabia to end its human-rights abuses and release detained activists.
And in an apparent slight against Crown Prince Mohammed, Psaki said on February 16 that Biden’s opposite number was not Crown Prince Mohammed, but his father, King Salman.
The 85-year-old king relinquished the day-to-day running of Saudi Arabia to Crown Prince Mohammed in 2017.
However, King Salman is infirm, and recently underwent surgery. Crown Prince Mohammed will almost certainly be king when his father dies, meaning the US will likely have to deal with him for many years to come.