White House defends decision not to punish Saudi Crown Prince MbS

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – DECEMBER 10: (—- EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT – “BANDAR ALGALOUD / SAUDI KINGDOM COUNCIL / DOCUMENT” – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A CUSTOMER SERVICE —- Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman attends the 40th annual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 10, 2019 (Photo by Bandar Algaloud / Council of the Saudi Kingdom / Handout / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Anadolu Agency

WASHINGTON – The White House on Sunday defended its decision not to target Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after a U.S. intelligence report linked the royal to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

“Historically, and even in recent history, in the Democratic and Republican administrations, there have been no sanctions in place for the leaders of foreign governments where we have diplomatic relations and even where we do not have diplomatic relations, “White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in an interview on CNN’s” State of the Union “program.

“We believe there are more effective ways to ensure this does not happen again and also to make room for working with the Saudis in areas where there is mutual agreement,” Psaki said.

“This is what diplomacy looks like. This is what a complicated global engagement looks like and we have made no secret and made it clear that we will hold them accountable on the world stage,” Psaki said, adding that the administration had taken goes through the State and Treasury Department.

When running for president, Joe Biden said he would hold senior Saudi leaders responsible for Khashoggi’s death, calling the kingdom’s leadership a “pariah” with “very little social redemption value”.

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Friday, The Treasury slapped the sanctions on the Crown Prince’s security service, known as the Rapid Intervention Force. He also sanctioned the former deputy head of the kingdom’s intelligence services, Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al-Asiri, accused of being a leader of the conspiracy.

Meanwhile, the State Department imposed visa restrictions on 76 Saudi people “suspected of threatening dissidents abroad, including, but not limited to, the murder of Khashoggi.”

Khashoggi, a 59-year-old US resident and well-known critic of the Saudi royal family, visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. He never appeared after the scheduled meeting. He was killed inside the Saudi government building and then dismembered. His remains have never been found.

A man holds a poster of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arab Media Association at the entrance to the Saudi Arabian consulate on October 8, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

When asked if the Biden administration would take further action, Psaki said the United States would recalibrate its relationship with Saudi Arabia following the Trump administration.

Earlier this month, Biden announced the end of US support for offensive operations in Yemen. Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have carried out attacks in Yemen against the Houthis. The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen had previously benefited from the support of the administration of former President Donald Trump. And last month, Biden halted sales of precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia in order to assess potential human rights violations.

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During the election campaign, then-Vice President Biden criticized then-President Donald Trump’s refusal to tackle the kingdom’s human rights abuses and his eagerness to sell more American-made weapons to the royal family.

“I would like to make it very clear that we are not actually going to sell them more weapons, we are actually going to make them pay the price,” Biden said during a Democratic presidential debate. “They must be held accountable,” he added.

Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich monarchy is one of the United States’ most strategic partners and a major patron of American defense companies. The Saudis are the main buyer of American-made weapons, a title that has protected the kingdom from retaliatory sanctions following the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Despite reports that Saudi Arabia was behind the attack, Trump said in a lengthy statement that the United States would be on Saudi Arabia’s side.

US President Donald Trump watches Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud as they line up for the family photo on the opening day of the 2018 G20 Argentina Leaders’ Summit in Costa Salguero on November 30, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Daniel Jayo | Getty Images

Throughout his presidency, Trump has often spoken about the importance of America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, repeatedly rejecting approval of the significant economic or political consequences of Riyadh’s human rights violations.

Trump has also previously said that the US defense industry would have a negative impact if his administration sanctioned the Saudis for Khashoggi’s murder.

“I’m telling you what I don’t want to do,” Trump told CBS’s “60 Minutes” when asked if it was possible to block arms sales in Riyadh. “Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all that [companies]. I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like this. There are other ways of punishing, to use a word that is quite a harsh word, but it’s true, ”he said a month after Khashoggi disappeared.

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Read more: Restrictions on arms sales to Saudi Arabia would likely have limited impact on US defense companies, says Cowen

The Biden administration has previously said it is reviewing the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia and unlike the previous administration, the 35-year-old royal is not seen as the president’s counterpart. Instead, Biden and will lead relations through the Crown Prince’s aging father, King Salman, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will lead relations through the Foreign Secretary.

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