Following a U.S. briefing report, the State Department spokesman said Biden was seeking to “ recalibrate ” and not “ sever ” U.S.-Saudi ties.
The Biden administration on Monday defended its decision not to apply sanctions to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“We are working to put relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia back on the right foot,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a press conference in Washington, defending the the Biden administration’s decision not to sanction the crown prince, who is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.
The Biden administration seeks to “recalibrate”, not “sever” the US-Saudi relationship, Price said.
If the Biden administration had done “something more dramatic and radical” by appointing MBS for sanctions, it would “significantly diminish” US influence in Riyadh, Price said.
The administration’s decision not to punish the crown prince drew sharp criticism from the editor of the Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a columnist.
Accusing Biden of breaking his election promise to make the Saudi regime “pay the price” for Khashoggi’s murder, Post editor Fred Ryan wrote: “It appears that under the Biden administration, despots who momentarily offer a strategic value in the United States could receive a “one murder free” pass. “
On February 26, the US State Department put 76 Saudi nationals on a travel ban list and the Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on Saudi officials implicated in Khashoggi’s murder, but Crown Prince Mohammed did not 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 attributing responsibility for the operation that killed Khashoggi to MBS.
“The choices Riyadh makes will have disproportionate implications for the region,” Price said.
“Our goal in all of this is to be able to shape those choices in the future. That’s why we talked about it not as a break, but as a benchmarking to make sure we keep that influence in what we need for our own interests.
Price said that since Joe Biden was elected US president, Riyadh has taken “steps in the right direction” by freeing a women’s rights activist. Loujain al-Hathloul and two double Saudi-American citizens, as well as the end of the Saudi blockade against Qatar.
The ODNI report said US intelligence agencies concluded over a year ago that the Saudi Crown Prince had approved the operation of members of his protective detachment to capture or kill Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. , in Turkey.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry on Friday dismissed the US report as inaccurate. Saudi officials have denied that MBS was involved in Khashoggi’s death.
On Monday, ODNI also said it removed three names from 21 people it identified in Khashoggi’s original report as being involved in the murder.
The names of Abdulla Mohammed Alhoeriny, Yasir Khalid Alsalem and Ibrahim al-Salim did not appear in a revised version of the ODNI report posted on the agency’s website.
“We put a revised document on the site because the original contained three names that should not have been added,” according to an ODNI spokesperson.
The office provided no further explanation for the error.
The new ODNI version of the report lists 18 people in addition to MBS as having “participated in, ordered or otherwise complicit in or responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi”.