World Biden response to report on Khashoggi killing angers both Saudi Arabia and its critics
Fact check: Breaking down Joe Biden's first month of claims
President Joe Biden was more consistently factual in his first month in office than his predecessor ever was in office. But Biden was not perfect.President Joe Biden was more consistently factual in his first month in office than his predecessor ever was in office. But Biden was not perfect himself.
Throughout his campaign, President Biden vowed to take a harder line with Saudi Arabia. Its leaders, he insisted, would need to act responsibly or “pay the price” for reckless moves and be made “the pariah that they are.”
But after his administrationlast week blaming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the 2018 killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it didn’t quite work out that way.
Washington imposed sanctions on the hit team dispatched to capture or kill Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and placed visa restrictions on 76 others it said had threatened dissidents overseas. The crown prince, who the U.S. says ordered Khashoggi's silencing, was left untouched.
Biden speaks with Saudi king ahead of release of Khashoggi report
President Biden on Thursday spoke with Saudi King Salman ahead of the anticipated release of a U.S. intelligence report on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi that is expected to implicate the king's son, the Saudi crown prince.The White House readout of the call made no mention of Khashoggi, but said the two leaders "affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.""The President told KingThe White House readout of the call made no mention of Khashoggi, but said the two leaders "affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.
Administration officials framed that decision as a way of recalibrating rather than rupturing the relationship with Riyadh.
But it also underscores the realpolitik facing Biden and the difficult question of how to deal with a figureof a longtime Middle Eastern ally. The U.S. continues to count on Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against Iran and Islamic extremism in the region, making strong condemnation and punishment of the kingdom's misdeeds a tricky business.
In trying to thread that needle, the new administration has ended up angering both the crown prince and his circle, who reject the intelligence report, and human rights defenders, who see him as having received barely a slap on the wrist.
Saudi Crown Prince Approved Plan for Khashoggi Death, U.S. Finds
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signed off on the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a U.S. intelligence report released Friday. © Photographer: Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images Prince Mohammed bin Salman “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the report concluded. The report builds on classified intelligence from the CIA and other agencies after Khashoggi’s murder in October 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
State Department spokesman Ned Price defended Biden’s pullback from a full-throated censure, saying the administration sought to retain the influence to "shape" the Saudi government's choices.
"It is undeniable that Saudi Arabia is aand beyond," Price told reporters Monday. "The choices that Riyadh makes will have outsized implications for the region and outsized implications for countries in the region and countries beyond the region, including for the United States."
Aside from the sanctions and visa ban, Price urged Saudi Arabia to “adopt institutional, systemic reforms and controls to ensure that anti-dissident activities and operations cease and cease completely.”
The statement mollified few critics, including Saudi dissidents abroad.
"While we welcome the publication of the report, we await real actions to bring justice in the heinous murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and guarantees that such crimes are never committed against people who express opinions that amount to criticism of the Saudi regime's policies," said Madawi al-Rasheed, spokeswoman for the National Assembly Party, an opposition group of mostly exiled Saudi figures.
Saudi crown prince 'approved' Khashoggi murder operation: US intel report
The U.S. on Friday released a declassified intelligence report finding that the Saudi crown prince 'approved' an operation to capture or kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The brutal killing has roiled the United States' longstanding ties with Saudi Arabia, and President Joe Biden has vowed to recalibrate the relationship after his predecessor Donald Trump shielded the kingdom from U.S. pressure.
Fawaz Gerges, an expert on Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics, said the Biden administration's response simply continued previous U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia, where tough talk is belied by weak action.
“Since the beginning of the Cold War to the present, the U.S. has prioritized its geo-strategic and economic interests at the expense of human rights and the rule of law," Gerges said. "There’s a huge gap between rhetoric and reality.”
The consensus among the U.S. foreign policy establishment, he said, was that energy, arms sales and calm markets were the priority, and that the alternative to the authoritarians in the region wasand Syria.
For its part, Saudi Arabia is furious. Hours after the report’s release, the Saudi foreign ministry rejected its findings as “negative, false and unacceptable.”
"It is truly unfortunate that this report, with its unjustified and inaccurate conclusions, is issued while the kingdom had clearly denounced this heinous crime, and the kingdom's leadership took the necessary steps to ensure that such a tragedy never takes place again,” the statement said.
Biden will not sanction MBS over Khashoggi's killing despite US report implicating the Saudi leader in the murder
Other than being downgraded in the eyes of the US under Biden, it's unclear what other consequences, if any, MBS will face over Khashoggi's killing.The Treasury Department on Friday unveiled sanctions against General Ahmed al-Asiri, former deputy head of the Saudi intelligence services, and the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force over connections to the Khashoggi killing.
"The kingdom rejects any measure that infringes upon its leadership, sovereignty, and the independence of its judicial system.”
Other Gulf countries closed ranks. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and even Qatar — which only— issued statements reaffirming Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty and stability.
In Crown Prince Mohammed, the Biden administration is dealing with a figure who began stirring up controversy even before Khashoggi's assassination.
Since he essentially took over the reins of government from his father, King Salman, in 2015, the crown prince launched a disastrous war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led bombing campaign and blockade have had a horrific toll on civilians and. He allegedly had Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, kidnapped, forcing him to resign on television before international intervention made him back down.
At home, although Mohammad pushed some social reforms at breakneck speed, he presided over a supposed anti-corruption dragnet that critics dismiss as a gambit to consolidate power. Activists, clerics, even other members of the royal family who challenge his authority — none escapes punishment in an atmosphere where dissent, no matter how mild, can be dangerous, if not deadly.
U.S. says Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi killing, imposes visa restrictions on 76 Saudis
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's control of decision-making in Saudi Arabia was cited as evidence he approved the killing Jamal Khashoggi.The report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, released Friday, cited the crown prince's control of decision-making in Saudi Arabia as well as the involvement of a key advisor and members of the prince's protective detail in the operation that killed Khashoggi, a critic of the royal family.
The killing of Khashoggi in October 2018 proved that in horrific fashion.
The Saudi insider-turned-critic, who wrote columns for the Washington Post, entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul for what was supposed to be a simple bureaucratic procedure and instead encountered the “Tiger Squad,” members of the crown prince’s personal protection detail. A struggle ended in Khashoggi's death. His corpseand buried somewhere off site; his remains have yet to be found.
Saudi Arabia maintains that Tiger Squad operatives acted beyond their orders; eight of 11 suspects have been sentenced to jail time or death sentences.
But the U.S. intelligence report said the crown prince had approved the operation. "We base this assessment on the Crown Prince's control of decision-making in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman's protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince's support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi," the report says.
Saudi media have gone into overdrive in defense of the crown prince. Commentators pooh-pooh the report’s findings as little more than amateurish guesswork. Analysts conjure up a web of nefarious adversaries who they say are leading a conspiracy to tarnish the kingdom’s leadership.
On Twitter, the country’s most popular social medium, activists declare fealty to the crown prince while sharing videos of Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison complex where U.S. troops tortured prisoners, as an example of the U.S.’ dark human rights record.
US focused on Saudi Arabia's 'future conduct' after intel report ties crown prince to Khashoggi death
The United States is focused on Saudi Arabia's "future conduct" after rejecting sanctions against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a State Department spokesman. © Provided by Washington Examiner “We are very focused on future conduct, and that is part of why we have cast this not as a rupture but a recalibration,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Monday. “We are trying to get to the systemic issues underlying the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
“Everyone knows it’s a report not worthy of a first-year journalism student let alone the world’s largest intelligence apparatus,” Saudi commentator Mohammad Al-Sulami tweeted.
Others dismiss the Biden administration’s moves as little more than posturing for a domestic audience, an attempt to draw a distinction with the carte blanche that former President Trump gave Riyadh.
“It’s theatrics and cosmetics,” said Ali Shihabi, a commentator close to the Saudi government.
Though Khashoggi's killing was a “horrible tragedy,” he said, it was one individual and other governments had done worse.
“The U.S. government went in and destroyed Iraq,” Shihabi added, referring to the 2003 invasion and its aftermath. “Who was held accountable for that?”
Shihabi warned that Riyadh's displeasure with Washington would push it to look beyond the U.S. for support. As an example, he noted that the kingdom has turned to China — already its biggest trade partner — to ramp up its ballistic missile program even as U.S. congressional leaders seek to limit weapons sales.
“This isn’t aid to Saudi Arabia. It’s paying top dollar for this, and it can get equipment that is as good elsewhere,” Shihabi said. “This alliance has already shown its limitations, so all this does is accelerate a desire by the kingdom to anchor its strategic relationships in a more diversified manner.”
Gerges of the London School of Economics sees little hope that Biden — or any other president — will change Washington's Saudi Arabia policy to be more fully in line with pro-democracy values.
“Even if Biden punishes MBS,” Gerges said, referring to the crown prince by his initials, “there will be no long-term change.
"There’s no magic wand. You start by taking human rights and the rule of law seriously, not just paying lip service, and applying them across the board, to friend and foe."
Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Washington contributed to this report.
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'This can't be the end of the matter': Advocates, lawmakers press Biden to punish Saudi crown prince .
Human rights advocates and Democrats are calling for a more aggressive U.S. response against Mohammad Bin Salman over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.It comes as Democrats in Congress are also calling for a more aggressive U.S. response targeting Mohammad Bin Salman, with lawmakers actively considering legislative options if the Biden administration refuses to sanction the crown prince.