Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation to arrest or kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. This emerges from an intelligence report that could have far-reaching implications for US-Saudi Arabia relations.
The report released on Friday by the Office of the Director of the National Intelligence Service mentioned the Crown Prince’s control over decision-making in Saudi Arabia, as well as the involvement of a key advisor and members of his protection department in the operation in which Khashoggi was killed.
“Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control over the kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, so it is highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this type without the Crown Prince’s approval,” the report said.
The intelligence service assessment also noted “that the Crown Prince is using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi”.
The CIA-led assessment that had so far been classified comes from President Joe Biden, who aims to reshape US relations with Saudi Arabia after years of the Trump administration’s condemnation of the kingdom’s human rights abuses despite condemnation in Congress and ignored at the United Nations.
Khashoggi, a 59-year-old U.S. citizen and Washington Post employee who criticized the Saudi royal family, entered a Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2, 2018 and never left the country. He was killed by a group of assassins who then dismembered his body. His remains were never recovered.
In a diplomatic reprimand to the Crown Prince this week, the White House made it clear that Biden does not see 35-year-old bin Salman as his counterpart and will instead have relationships through his aging father, King Salman. The younger bin Salman has been the public face of the kingdom since he became crown prince in 2017.
Robert Mahoney, Deputy Executive Director of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, speaks during a press conference to appeal to the United Nations on the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the United Nations in New York, United States on October 18, 2018.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters
“On Saudi Arabia, I would say that we made it clear from the start that we would recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” said Psaki from the White House on Tuesday.
On Thursday, in his first conversation with the 85-year-old King, Biden reiterated “the importance the United States attaches to universal human rights and the rule of law,” according to a White House ad.
Biden also told Salman that he “will work to make bilateral relations as strong and transparent as possible,” the White House said.
Khashoggi’s name was not mentioned in the advertisement.
The Saudi authorities initially denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s death and later claimed that the journalist was involved in a fight at the consulate and died in the clash. The Saudi authorities eventually admitted that Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue operation” while denying bin Salman was involved.
A United Nations investigator concluded in a June 2019 report that Khashoggi was “the victim of a premeditated, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.”
Trump publicly tried to cast doubts about the Crown Prince’s involvement in Khashoggi’s death, even after multiple outlets reported that the CIA bin Salman itself had concluded that the journalist had been killed. Trump said the CIA had “nothing in particular” while claiming the oil-rich kingdom would remain a “steadfast partner” with the US
“It could very well be that the Crown Prince was aware of this tragic event – maybe he did it and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said less than two months after Khashoggi’s death. Trump’s conciliatory stance contrasted sharply with outrage from members of Congress and the media over the Khashoggi assassination.
The Trump administration maintained relationships through the Crown Prince, who maintained close personal relationships with members of the Trump family, particularly Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of former President Donald Trump.
Trump made Saudi Arabia his first stop in the Middle East when he made his debut in the region in 2017. The kingdom rolled out the red carpet for the former reality star.
The Trump administration used its ties with the Gulf monarchies to normalize relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The former president also vetoed attempts by Congress to block billions in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and an attempt to end US involvement in the war in Yemen.
Biden’s review of relations with Saudi Arabia is part of a broader US foreign policy shift in the Middle East.
The president has ended US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and is trying to return to the negotiating table with Iran, Riyadh’s enemy, through its nuclear program.
The US president called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, his first conversation with a Middle Eastern leader since taking office. The Saudis and Israelis are de facto allies, although they do not have formal diplomatic ties to counter Iranian influence in the region.
Biden “discussed regional security” in his appeal Thursday with King Salman, referring to his government’s efforts to end the war in Yemen “and the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory since it did Exposed to attacks by Iranian-centric groups, “the White House ad said.
Biden and Salman “also affirmed the historical nature of the relationship and agreed to work together on issues of mutual interest and concern,” according to the White House.
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