Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, April 18th, 2021

U.S. says Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi killing, imposes visa restrictions on 76 Saudis

U.S. says Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi killing, imposes visa  restrictions on 76 Saudis

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation to capture or kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, according to a U.S. intelligence report that could further strain U.S.-Saudi relations as the White House reassesses ties with Riyadh.
The report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, released Friday, cited the crown prince’s control of decision-making in Saudi Arabia as well as the involvement of a key advisor and members of the prince’s protective detail in the operation that killed Khashoggi, a critic of the royal family.
Also Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken imposed visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals whom are “believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.” A State Department spokesperson would not provide the names of those individuals, saying visa records are confidential under U.S. law.
However, The New York Times reported that the Biden administration would not penalize the crown prince for Khashoggi’s killing. The White House decided such action would have too high a cost on U.S.-Saudi cooperation in the areas of counterterrorism and confronting Iran, according to the Times.
Blinken said the restrictions are part of a new “Khashoggi Ban” that will bar visas for people acting on behalf of a foreign government who are believed to have engaged in “serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.”
When asked why the crown prince was not among those facing punishment, Blinken emphasized the importance U.S. interests and not rupturing relations with Saudi Arabia.
“And so what we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship but to recalibrate to be more in line with our interests and our values,” Blinken told reporters at a press conference. “And I think that we have to understand as well that this is bigger than any one person.”
The Treasury Department on Friday imposed sanctions on the crown prince’s security detail, known as the Rapid Intervention Force. It also sanctioned the former deputy head of the kingdom’s intelligence service, Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al-Asiri, who is accused of being a ringleader in the plot.
The ODNI report noted that, “Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization.”
The Saudi government, in a statement Friday, rejected the report’s conclusions, saying it contained erroneous information. Riyadh condemned Khashoggi’s killing as a violation of the kingdom’s laws and values, blaming his death on a rogue group.
The CIA-led assessment, which until now had been classified, comes as President Joe Biden aims to reshape the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia after years in which the Trump administration ignored the kingdom’s human rights abuses despite condemnation in Congress and at the United Nations. 
The Trump administration had refused to provide a report to Congress in 2019 on who was responsible for Khashoggi’s death. Lawmakers had requested the report under the Magnitsky Act, which would have required sanctions against those responsible for the killing.
Khashoggi, a 59-year-old U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist, entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, and never left.
He was killed by a group of assassins, who then dismembered his body. His remains were never recovered.
“The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him,” the ODNI report said.
“Although Saudi officials had pre-planned an unspecified operation against Khashoggi we do not know how far in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House intel committee, on Friday called for the White House to impose “serious repercussions against all the responsible parties it has identified” for Khashoggi’s killing and to reassess the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the intelligence report.
“We must ensure that if foreign governments target journalists simply for doing their jobs, they are not immune to serious repercussions and sanctions, because restoring confidence in American leadership requires we act in accordance with the values that have long set America apart,” Schiff said.
“The Administration should take further steps to diminish the United States’ reliance on Riyadh and reinforce that our partnership with the Kingdom is a not a blank check,” he added. (CBNC)