The administration of US President Joe Biden on Friday announced a visa ban on 76 Saudi citizens for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and announced sanctions, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is not on the sanctions list.
In a statement on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “the world is horrified” by Khashoggi’s murder and announced a visa restriction policy named after the prominent Saudi journalist and dissident.
“Khashoggi’s ban allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on persons who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, have allegedly been directly engaged in serious extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those who suppress , harass, monitor, threaten or harm journalists or other persons perceived as dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities towards the families or other close relations of these persons ”, declared Blinken in the press release.
“For the sake of security for all within our borders, perpetrators who target dissidents on behalf of a foreign government should not be allowed to reach American soil,” Blinken added.
Biden’s actions in the first weeks of his administration appear to be aimed at keeping campaign pledges to realign Saudi ties after critics accused his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, of giving the Arab ally and great oil producer a transmission on gross violations of human rights.
Blinken said the measures reinforce the global condemnation of Khashoggi’s murder and serve to “push back governments that cross their borders to threaten and attack journalists and dissidents suspected of exercising their fundamental freedoms.”
A senior Biden administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity with the Reuters news agency, said the approach was aimed at creating a new starting point for ties to the kingdom without severing a fundamental relationship in the Middle-East. Relations were strained for years by the war in Yemen and the murder inside a Saudi consulate of Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote for the Washington Post.
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 goal is a recalibration [in ties] – not a break. It’s because of the important interests we share, ”said senior administration official Biden.
Khashoggi, 59, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 and killed by a team of agents linked to the crown prince. They then dismembered his body. His remains have never been found.
The US Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on former Saudi deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri and the Saudi Royal Guard rapid response force, known as the “Tiger Squad” or Firqat el -Nemr, the department said in a statement. declaration.
The Rapid Response Force, or RIF, was singled out in the declassified U.S. intelligence report for its role in Khashoggi’s murder. The force “exists to defend the Crown Prince, responds only to him and has directly participated in previous operations to suppress dissidents in the Kingdom and abroad,” the report said.
The visa ban will also be applied selectively to family members, officials said.
“The people of Saudi Arabia will participate in this first installment. But then it’s really a new global tool, ”a second US official told Reuters.
Human rights monitoring
In addition, the US State Department will begin documenting in its annual human rights report programs in Saudi Arabia and other countries that monitor, harass or target dissidents and journalists.
Riyadh eventually admitted that Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue” extradition operation that had gone awry, but denied any involvement of the crown prince. Five men sentenced to death for the murder had their sentences commuted to 20 years in prison after being pardoned by Khashoggi’s family.
Biden administration officials have said the decisions on sanctions and visa bans will send a clear message about how the United States wants to view the future US-Saudi relationship.
It will also allow the United States to maintain a working relationship with the Crown Prince, the 35-year-old de facto ruler of the country.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has already spoken to him.
Asked about any debate on the application of sanctions against the crown prince, the first US official said that the United States has generally not applied sanctions “to the highest leaders of countries”.
“We are really [came to] the unanimous conclusion that there are just other, more effective ways to deal with these issues in the future, ”the official said.
Earlier this month, Biden declared a halt to U.S. support for a Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, demanding that the six-year-plus war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia Arabia and Iran, comes to an end.