The reaction in Washington was swift and indebted.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress Named The response is insufficient and urges the Biden administration to punish the crown prince directly. Human rights groups pressed for a wider arms freeze for Saudi Arabia so that the crown prince faces justice. A torrent of criticism has come from prominent columnists and editorial boards, including The Washington Post, in which Khashoggi wrote columns, in which Biden said Granted “What amounts to a pass for a ruler who has sowed instability throughout the Middle East.”
White House press secretary Jane Psaki was asked Monday about Biden’s reaction to the criticism he described as “choking” with sanctions against Muhammad, the de facto leader of the country.
“I don’t think anyone would run for president or be elected if they had thin skin,” she said. “I think he fully anticipated that there might be some criticism.”
But she noted that Biden’s role “is to act in the national interest of the United States. And that is exactly what he is doing.”
She said the situation is “complicated”.
For senior Biden administration officials, criticism about the administration’s actions may have been inevitable, but it did not always take into account how quickly the United States’s position with the monarchy had changed since Biden’s inauguration, several US officials said, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity. Their identity. To discuss internal deliberations.
Khashoggi, a self-exiled Virginia resident who has written critical of the Saudi monarchy, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, where Saudi agents drugged and dismembered him. His remains were not found.
The CIA quickly assessed that the crown prince had ordered the killing, an outcome that angered a majority in Congress who had already believed that the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia needed to be reformed and curbed Muhammad’s authoritarian instincts. From an unclassified summary, compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Even before his election, Biden had promised sweeping change – including the publication of an ODNI document that Trump refused to release for two years. Once inaugurated, his national security team began drafting a new policy, designed to distinguish their president from President Donald Trump, who has treated Saudi Arabia and its ambitious heir with baby gloves and bypassed congressional efforts to punish the kingdom for its brutal war. In Yemen and the treatment of enemies at home and abroad.
Defining Saudis as bad actors was one of the few issues for which there was a bipartisan agreement among the majority of US lawmakers.
A team was formed under the new administration weeks ago, including senior representatives of the National Security Council and the Ministries of State, Treasury and Defense, to consider what action to take.
The first part, an announced “recalibration” of relations with the Saudis, was relatively easy. When they filled in the blanks on what that might mean for the first few weeks, they communicated their intentions for the kingdom.
Offensive weapons sales that Trump approved to prosecute the years-long Saudi war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen has been revoked, and all other Saudi arms purchases are under review. A special administrative envoy – Tim Lenderking, whose previous assignment was as a senior State Department official managing the relationship with the Saudis – has been appointed to help end the Yemen war. The Saudis were warned that they were expected to cooperate.
Statements were made critical of the country’s imprisonment of dissidents – especially women – and Saudi-American citizens. Even more shocking to the monarchy is that it has been made clear that Biden will take his time accepting a congratulatory call from King Salman and not speak to Muhammad. The call was eventually accepted last week, the day before the ODNI report was released.
The Saudis, who had long been unable to find a way out of the un winnable war in Yemen, agreed to make greater efforts, especially in cooperation with Lenderking and the efforts of the United Nations, and to lift the blockade that was preventing humanitarian aid from reaching starving Yemenis. On the other hand, negotiators pressured the Houthis to stop the attacks, with what they believed to be Iranian missiles and drones, against Saudi territory.
Administration officials were mostly pleased with Saudi Arabia’s response to the private communications that convey their early decisions. Two Saudi Americans were released, as was Loujain Al-Hathloul, a prominent opposition figure who has been detained since 2018.
More changes were announced on Friday with the release of the Khashoggi report. The former deputy chief of Saudi intelligence, Ahmed Al-Asiri, will be appointed to sanctions and an asset freeze by the Treasury, along with members of a special intelligence unit, the Rapid Intervention Force, which reports directly to Muhammad. They were considered directly involved not only in Khashoggi’s killing, but to track, and in some cases attack, them, at home and abroad.
A list was compiled of 76 Saudis believed to be involved in Operation Khashoggi. They were to be the first to submit to the new “Khashoggi ban” on anyone in any country deemed responsible for attacking or ill-treating opponents and journalists. Although officials said US law prohibits the public from posting names, all of them and their families will be barred from obtaining a visa to enter the United States.
But the problem of sanctions that could be imposed on Muhammad remained. Draw sake Cash To tell reporters that the United States does not punish heads of government with whom it has diplomatic relations.
Officials assured that they had thought about it long and hard. The leader of another country is rarely punished, and it is never with the leader of a partner in national security. Although the crown prince does not have an entry visa to the United States, and US officials have indicated that he will not obtain a visa anytime soon, any such decision will be infinitely more problematic once he becomes king, which is almost certain with His departure. 85 years old father.
And the crown prince was unique. Banning the grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia would mean declaring what a senior administration official described as a “hostile” relationship with the kingdom, the honorary protector of the holiest sites in the Islamic world.
Even if that were acceptable, in a dangerous region where the United States seeks Saudi leadership and cooperation, untangling Muhammad’s assets in freezing the kingdom’s assets was seen as practically impossible.
“After looking at this more closely, for the past five weeks or so, really, the unanimous conclusion.” [was] “There are more effective ways to deal with these issues in the future,” said a senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to explain the reasons behind the scenes.
“The aim is to re-calibrate, not to break,” the official said.
We have been very clear with the Saudis that this is a historic partnership. It has lasted for 75 years. But the reality here in the United States and in Washington is that the Saudis have lost both political parties. . . That is why we want to re-establish this partnership. “
But once the intelligence report was released, and new bans and sanctions announced, even former Obama administration officials, such as former CIA Director John Brennan, indicated that the Biden administration’s actions were not enough.
“To say that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the horrific killing of Jamal Khashoggi is not being held accountable,” Brennan wrote on Twitter on Sunday. The Biden administration must do much more than that. There will be no meetings with senior American officials, nor will any visits to the United States be a good start. “
One American official said that Brennan’s recommendation is under active consideration internally, and indicated that the United States may prevent Saudi Arabia from participating in international summits it organizes in the coming months to underscore Washington’s frustration.
While Biden was criticized for not punishing Mohammed bin Salman over the weekend, Saudi commentators issued their own statements, accusing the United States of trying to “bully” the kingdom. Abdullah Al-Otaibi wrote in the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, based in London, that Saudi Arabia “is not a banana republic shaken by threats.”
The official response of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, citing what it described as irregularities and lies in the report, was mitigated by affirming a close US-Saudi partnership. The management itself has gone to great lengths to ensure that the relationship still matters.
“We have great continuing interests.” Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken said on Saturday, “We remain committed to the defense of the kingdom.”
But as the administration weathered the storm of criticism, officials tried to present a comprehensive picture of “recalibration” as something far from business as usual.
On Monday, Psaki said the steps that have been taken are “the right steps to prevent” something like the Khashoggi killing “from ever happening again.”
“This is our goal,” she said. “Even before this report was released … we made it clear that it would be a shift from the way it has been handled over the past four years.”