US presses Saudis over Khashoggi killing

AFP , Tuesday 2 Mar 2021

The United States on Monday pressed Saudi Arabia to take further measures after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.AFP

The United States on Monday pressed Saudi Arabia to take further measures after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

President Joe Biden on Friday released an intelligence report that found that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, a US based contributor to The Washington Post who was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he was strangled to death and dismembered.

The report classified under former president Donald Trump, a close ally of the Saudis found that seven of the 15 members of the hit squad that flew to Istanbul came from the Rapid Intervention Force, which it said 'answers only to him' (the crown prince).

'We have urged Saudi Arabia to disband this group and then adopt institutional, systemic reforms and controls to ensure that anti-dissident activities and operations cease and cease completely,' State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

'We have made crystal clear and will continue to do so that the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi 28 months ago remains unacceptable conduct,' Price said.

He also called on Saudi Arabia to act on other fronts including lifting a travel ban on Loujain al-Hathloul, an advocate for women's right to drive in the ultra-conservative kingdom who was provisionally freed in January after nearly three years in jail.

The Biden administration imposed sanctions on the Rapid Intervention Force meaning any US transactions with it will be a crime and said it was banning entry into the United States of 76 Saudis under a new policy against foreign officials who harass dissidents.

Biden has sought to "recalibrate" the decades-old Saudi alliance and has already said the United States will end support for offensive operations in the devastating Saudi war in Yemen.

But the administration stopped short of personally targeting the 35-year-old crown prince.

Asked why no action was taken against the prince, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the United States does not typically sanction foreign leaders -- despite frequent US action against senior officials of hostile nations.

But she hinted that Prince Mohammed was not permanently off the hook, saying: ' Of course we reserve the right to take any action at the time and manner of our choosing.'

Price said that the United States would not "preview" who would be banned in the future, adding, ' I am not aware of any plans for the crown prince to travel to the United States in the near term.'

The Saudi government denounced the US report. It insists Khashoggi's killing was a rogue operation that did not involve the crown prince.

*This story has been edited by Ahram Online

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