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US issues muted response against Saudi Arabia

March 1, 2021

Following the report about the killing of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the US says it is focused on the "future conduct" of Saudi Arabia.

Side by side portraits of Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Joe Biden
The US has yet to impose any sanctions on the de-facto Saudi ruler

Saudi Arabia's persecution of activists "undermines" the Kingdom's partnership with the US, a State Department spokesman said on Monday.

The US published an intelligence report last week that said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved  the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.

However, the Biden administration does not plan to cut off ties with Riyadh.

What did the State Department say about Saudi relations?

The US called on Riyadh to disband its Rapid Intervention Force, which Washington says conducts operations against Saudi dissidents.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said:

  • The US's aim was to ensure "a crime like this could never happen again;"
  • "Our intent is to make the partnership even more sustainable;"
  • "We are very focused on future conduct and have cast this not as a rupture, but as a recalibration."

Washington also urged Saudi Arabia to adapt reforms which would make anti-dissident operations "cease and cease completely."

What measures has the US taken towards Saudi Arabia?

The US imposed some sanctions over the Khashoggi killing on Friday. At the time, President Joe Biden said that "there will be an announcement on Monday as to what we are going to be doing with Saudi Arabia generally."

Under the so-called "Khashoggi ban," the US has already suspended entry to 76 Saudi individuals, Price said.

The State Department pledged to "further enhance documentation and its annual human rights report of incidents where countries extraterritorially harass or target dissidents, activists, or journalists."

What did the US intelligence report say? 

The US declassified intelligence document pointed at the crown prince's aides, who would allegedly only carry out such operation with his green light. 

"The crown prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him," the report said. 

Since 2018, media reports suggested that US intelligence agencies concluded that the prince likely ordered the killing, but the document was only made public last week. 

The US president at the time, Donald Trump, was particularly cautious about criticizing Saudi Arabia's record on human rights, as ties between the two countries were flourishing. 

Who is Prince Mohammed bin Salman?

Mohammed bin Salman, usually dubbed MBS, has risen to power since his father became king in 2015.

The de facto ruler has held several positions in the Saudi government, including the minister of defense. 

Rights groups reported an increase in human rights violations in the kingdom since he consolidated power. 

Critics have long blamed the prince for launching a devastating war in Yemen and a failed economic blockade against Qatar.

dj/rt (DPA, AFP, Reuters)