The White House has released the US intelligence report on the 2018 assassination of Jamal Khashoggi , a journalist critical of the Riyadh regime, at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.
The text concludes, as had already been advanced, that the heir to the throne and de facto Saudi leader , Mohamed Bin Salmán, is responsible for the crime. “We conclude that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia Mohamed Bin Salmán approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi”, summarizes the report at its start.
Hours after the report was released, the State Department announced the imposition of visa restrictions on 76 Saudis who “are believed to have been involved in threats to dissidents abroad,” some of them allegedly related to the murder. by Khashoggi.
These restrictions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained in a statement, are imposed by virtue of what has been dubbed the “Khashoggi Prohibition”, created in homage to the murdered journalist.
But despite the findings of his intelligence services, Joe Biden has decided not to impose direct sanctions on the Saudi heir . The president, according to sources in the Democratic Administration cited by The New York Times , considers that the price to pay for directly sanctioning Bin Salmán is too high: it would jeopardize cooperation with Riyadh in the fight against terrorism and in confrontation with Iran.
The decision will upset human rights organizations, some of which pressured Biden to at least impose sanctions on the prince on travel, as well as some members of the Democratic Party itself who were highly critical of Trump for his refusal to confront the prince and hold him accountable for his actions.
Bin Salmán, according to the document released this Friday, considered Khashoggi a threat to Riyadh. The declassified report, three pages long and dated February 11, 2021, confirms the conclusions reached by the CIA in the investigations it carried out in the weeks after the October 2 assassination: that the operation in which a The death squad traveled to Istanbul, tricked Khashoggi into going to the Saudi consulate and, inside it, brutally dismembered the journalist with forensic tools, it was approved by the heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia.
The conclusions, says the report, are based on the control that Bin Salmán exercises over all “decision-making in the kingdom”, the “direct involvement of a key advisor” and members of his own security team in the operation, as well as “his support for the use of violent measures to silence dissidents, including Khashoggi.”
“Since 2017, the crown prince has had absolute control over the kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations,” he adds. “The crown prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the kingdom and generally supported the use of violent measures, if necessary, to silence him.”
The bulk of the evidence on which the report is based, including recordings of Khashoggi’s dismemberment at the consulate obtained by Turkish intelligence, remains classified. The report contributes little more than the conclusions of the American intelligence agencies that were already known.
But its official publication, the unequivocal nature of its conclusions and the brutality of the events described have the potential to shake relations between the United States and its traditional Saudi ally.
Despite the fact that Bin Salmán is not directly sanctioned, to avoid breaking strategic ties with the kingdom, the dissemination of the report, as well as Biden’s conversation with King Salmán on Thursday, indicate that Biden will try to isolate the controversial crown prince in its relationship with Saudi Arabia.
A relationship that, as the White House has explained, the new Administration is preparing to “recalibrate”. Biden has publicly expressed his commitment to Saudi Arabia and its defensive needs in the region, but earlier this month he already announced that the United States will stop supporting the Saudi military offensive in the Yemeni war, a conflict he described as a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.” .
The Joe Biden Administration had already announced that it would comply with the legal requirement and make public the declassified report of its intelligence agencies, to which former President Donald Trump resisted.
The publication symbolically opens an announced new stage in relations between Washington and Riyadh, and represents a clear break with the tepidity exhibited by the Trump Administration in the face of the brutal murder of a journalist living in the United States .
President Biden had a phone conversation Thursday with King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, 85, and not with Bin Salman. The change of interlocutor sent a message of change: while the Trump Administration dealt with the crown prince, Biden has chosen to consider that the king continues to be the leader of the country and that the official communication channel of his son, as minister Defense, it must be with the head of the Pentagon.
In the note published by the White House on the call between Biden and King Salmán, the name of Khashoggi is not mentioned, but it is indicated that the president “has affirmed the importance that the United States attaches to universal human rights and the empire of the law”.
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Biden was tough on Riyadh during the election campaign, criticizing the royal family and saying he would make the Saudis treated “like the pariahs that they are.” Now, in the White House since January 20, he has on the table his own electoral promises about limiting the sale of arms to the country and the demand for accounts on the murder of the journalist.
“There is a range of actions on the table,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki explained Thursday, asked about a possible response from the United States.