Saturday, February 27, 2021
Because of the Khashoggi murder
US imposes sanctions on Riyadh
Under Trump, the US is a close ally of the Saudi royal family, but with Biden the tide seems to be turning. Washington imposes a series of sanctions over the murder of journalist Khashoggi. Crown Prince Bin Salman is spared.
The new US President Joe Biden has drastically tightened the course vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia in a departure from the policies of his predecessor Donald Trump. In connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, the Biden government has now announced sanctions, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was spared.
Shortly before, the office of US intelligence coordinator Avril Haines had published a previously under wraps report on the case. It shows that the Crown Prince had approved the operation to capture or kill Khashoggis in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to US intelligence agencies.
“Wrong” and “Unacceptable” report
The Saudi Foreign Ministry immediately rejected the report as “false” and “unacceptable”. The ministry said that it contained “incorrect information and conclusions” on the Saudi leadership. The “terrible crime” is a blatant violation of Saudi law. Those who committed it were convicted. The kingdom rejects measures that violate its sovereignty and the independence of its judiciary.
Khashoggi was killed on October 2, 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a special command from Riyadh. There is still no trace of his body to this day. Khashoggi lived in the US state of Virginia and wrote columns for the Washington Post, which often contained criticism of the Saudi monarchy. After the disappearance of Khashoggi, the leadership of the Islamic-conservative kingdom was exposed to sharp criticism. She only admitted the murder under international pressure. The traces led into the closest circle of the Crown Prince, who denied having ordered the killing himself.
A Saudi court sentenced five defendants to 20 years’ imprisonment in the autumn, thus overturning a previously imposed death penalty on the accused. In the US report, in addition to the Crown Prince, 21 people are listed in connection with the operation. Immediately after the report was published, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced entry restrictions on 76 citizens of Saudi Arabia on Friday. The US Treasury Department also put the former Saudi Deputy Head of Intelligence, Ahmed al-Asiri, and an elite unit protecting the Crown Prince on the sanctions list.
No action against Crown Prince
There was criticism that the US government did not announce any punitive measures against the Crown Prince himself, although the Democrat Biden had promised this in the election campaign. The chairman of the secret service committee in the US House of Representatives, the Democrat Adam Schiff, called for further measures on Twitter. “The Biden government should ensure that the consequences for the brutal murder of Khashoggi hit not only those who carried it out, but also those who ordered it,” he wrote. “The Crown Prince has blood on his hands.”
The broadcaster CNN reported, citing government circles, that sanctions against the Crown Prince were not an option because they could have endangered US military interests. Saudi Arabia has traditionally been a close ally of the US. Foreign Minister Blinken defended the government’s actions. “So the measures we have taken were not aimed at breaking the relationship, but at recalibrating it to better align it with our interests and values,” he said at a press conference.
Blinken announced on Friday a new visa regulation called “Khashoggi ban”. It allows his ministry to impose visa restrictions on persons who are involved in activities against dissidents outside their country on behalf of foreign government, he said. “Extraterritorial threats and attacks by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents and journalists” would not be tolerated by the USA.
Trump was an ally
Biden’s predecessor Trump had made billions in arms deals with Riyadh. The Republican was an important ally of the Crown Prince with a rather lax attitude towards the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Washington imposed sanctions on more than a dozen former Saudi government employees in connection with the murder of the journalist. Trump stuck to his support for the royal family in Riyadh.
The government of Democrat Biden has made it clear that it will realign relations with Saudi Arabia. Biden had already promised a tougher course towards Saudi Arabia during the election campaign. In a TV debate in November 2019, he answered yes to the question of whether, as President, he would punish leading Saudi politicians for the murder of Khashoggi. Biden had also said at the time that he believed that Khashoggi was killed on the orders of the Crown Prince. Binken reiterated on Friday that the US government had suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia pending a review.