September 22, 2021

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FAQ: What Biden did — and didn’t do — after U.S. report on Khashoggi’s killing by Saudi agents – The Washington Post

4 min read

But what is significant is how the U.S. government is now poised to respond.

The Trump administration had blocked the report’s release, as well as opposing any attempts to sanction or sideline the Saudi monarchy, one of world’s biggest customers for U.S. weapons contractors. Saudi Arabia has denied the crown prince had any involvement.

The Biden administration, in contrast, has pledged to “recalibrate” relations. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the United States will not impose any direct punishment on the Saudi royal. The stated Biden calculus has been that Mohammed — the country’s 35-year-old de facto leader — is too valuable for U.S. strategic interests to risk losing as an ally.

Here’s a look of what the Biden administration has done — and not done — so far after the Khashoggi report.

On Oct. 2, 2018, Saudi agents killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. What has been done in the aftermath? (Joyce Lee, Thomas LeGro, Dalton Bennett, John Parks/The Washington Post)

What is the ‘Khashoggi ban’?

The State Department on Friday unveiled the “Khashoggi ban,” a directive to deny U.S. visas to “individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.”

Blinken said 76 Saudi citizens will be banned as a result. But the policy can be applied to cases of human rights abuses worldwide.

The Treasury Department additionally imposed sanctions on a close aide to Mohammed: Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy chief of Saudi intelligence. Saudi prosecutors implicated Assiri in the Khashoggi murder plot, but he was exonerated in a closed-door trial, along with Saud al-Qahtani, a powerful royal media adviser. (Eight others were sentenced.)

The crown prince fired Assiri just weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance as the initial international pressure grew.

Why wasn’t the crown prince sanctioned?

Human rights groups, as well as some Democratic U.S. lawmakers, have called on Biden to sanction Mohammed bin Salman.

The crown prince “should suffer sanctions, including financial, travel and legal — and the Saudi government should suffer grave consequences as long as he remains in government,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who authored the legislation mandating the report’s release.

But Biden’s team has been clear they will not go that far, at least not yet.

“The relationship with Saudi Arabia is bigger than any one individual,” Blinken told journalists Friday.

The United States “as a matter of practice has not generally applied sanctions on the highest leadership” when diplomatic relations are already in place, a senior administration official told reporters Friday, The Washington Post previously reported. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under rules set by the White House, added that the administration had “looked at this extremely closely, over the last five weeks or so” and unanimously concluded “that there’s just another more effective means to dealing with these issues going forward.”

Washington has sanctioned other world leaders, among them North Korea’s Kim Jong Un; Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko; Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela; Syria’s Bashar al-Assad; and the late Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.

On Saturday, Biden responded to a question from a White House reporter on whether he plans to specifically punish the Saudi crown prince following the Khashoggi report.

“There will be an announcement on Monday as to what we are going to be doing with Saudi Arabia, generally,” the president responded.

What other policy changes has Biden made?

Biden held his first call as president with Saudi Arabia on Thursday — only with 85-year-old King Salman. Neither side has said whether they discussed Khashoggi.

Going forward, the Biden administration said it will deal with the crown prince only in his capacity as Saudi defense minister. In contrast, Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, reportedly would communicate directly with Mohammed.

The Biden administration said it also has no plans to invite the crown prince to the United States. He last visited in March of 2018 and met with Trump in the Oval Office.

Biden has more forcefully spoken out against human rights abuses and political repression in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which is currently facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Biden has halted the sale of offensive weapons for use in the Yemen war and put all other weapons sales to Saudi Arabia on pause as it conducts a review of their impact.

Seung Min Kim contributed reporting

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