US to impose sanctions, visa bans on Saudis over Khashoggi’s killing

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration will announce sanctions and visa bans on Friday targeting Saudi Arabian citizens over the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but it will not impose sanctions on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, US officials said.

US President Joe Biden’s actions in the first weeks of his administration appear aimed at fulfilling campaign promises to realign Saudi ties after critics accused his predecessor, Donald Trump, of giving the Arab ally and major oil producer a pass on gross human rights violations.

A senior Biden administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the approach aims to create a new launching-off point for ties with the kingdom without breaking a core relationship in the Middle East. Relations have been severely strained for years by the war in Yemen and the killing inside a Saudi consulate of Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote columns for the Washington Post.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved of an operation to capture or kill dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a declassified US intelligence assessment released on Friday in a manner choreographed to limit damage to US-Saudi ties.

“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in the report posted on its website.

Importantly, the decisions appear designed to preserve a working relationship with the crown prince, even though US intelligence concluded that he approved the operation to capture or kill Khashoggi.

“The aim is a recalibration (in ties) — not a rupture. That’s because of the important interests that we do share,” the senior Biden administration official said.

The 59-year old Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2, 2018 and killed by a team of operatives linked to the crown prince. They then dismembered his body. His remains have never been found.

The US Treasury Department will place sanctions on the former deputy Saudi intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Asiri, and will announce a sanctions designation on the Saudi Royal Guard’s rapid intervention force, the administration official said.

The rapid intervention force, or RIF, was singled out in the declassified US intelligence report for its role in Khashoggi’s killing.

The United States will also announce visa restrictions against more than 70 Saudi citizens as part of a new policy aimed at nations that carry out activities against journalists and dissidents beyond their borders, a second Biden administration official said. Such activities include efforts to suppress, harass, surveil, threaten or harm them.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2021

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