The US President, Joe Biden’s administration has defended its decision not to apply sanctions on Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“We are working to put the US-Saudi relationship on the right footing,” state department spokesman Ned Price said at a news conference in Washington on Monday, 1 March, defending the Biden administration’s decision not to sanction the crown prince, who is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.
The Biden administration is seeking to ‘recalibrate’ not ‘rupture’ the US-Saudi relationship, Ned said.
“Had the Biden administration done something more dramatic and something more drastic by naming the Saudi prince for sanctions, it would greatly diminish US influence in Riyadh.” Ned said.
The administration’s decision not to punish the crown prince drew harsh criticism from the publisher of the Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a columnist.
Accusing Biden of breaking his campaign promise to make the Saudi regime ‘pay the price’ for the killing of Khashoggi, Post publisher Fred Ryan wrote: “It appears as though under the Biden administration, despots who offer momentarily strategic value to the United States might be given a one free murder pass.”
The US department of state on February 26 put 76 Saudi nationals on a no-travel list and the treasury department imposed financial sanctions on Saudi officials involved in the killing of Khashoggi but Crown Prince Mohammed was not included.
The sanctions were announced after the office of the director of national intelligence released a declassified report prepared by the CIA and other US spy agencies assigning responsibility for the operation that killed Khashoggi to Saudi prince.
“The choices Riyadh makes will have outsized implications for the region,” Ned said.
“Our goal in all of this is to be able to shape those choices going forward. That’s why we have talked about this not as a rupture but as a calibration to ensure that we retain that influence in what we need for our own interests.”
Agnes Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, on Monday called US inaction against the crown prince ‘extremely worrisome’.
“It is extremely, in my view, problematic if not dangerous to acknowledge someone’s culpability and then to tell that someone that we won’t do anything,” she said.
“I am calling on the US government to act on its public findings and to sanction the Saudi prince for what he has done.”
The ODNI report said US intelligence agencies had concluded more than a year ago that the Saudi crown prince had approved the operation by members of his protective detail to capture or kill Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Saudi foreign affairs ministry on Friday rejected the US report as inaccurate. Saudi officials have denied the price was involved in Khashoggi’s death.