Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation to arrest or kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. This emerges from a US intelligence report that could add further strain on US-Saudi Arabia relations if the White House reassesses relations with Riyadh.

The report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, released on Friday, cited the Crown Prince’s control over 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 on Friday, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken imposed visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals believed to have “threatened overseas dissidents, including, but not limited to, the murder of Khashoggi”. A State Department spokesman would not disclose the names of these people because the visa records are confidential under US law.

However, the New York Times reported that the Biden administration would not punish the crown prince for Khashoggi’s murder. The White House ruled that punishing the Crown Prince would cost too much US-Saudi Arabia cooperation on counter-terrorism and confrontation with Iran.

Blinken said the restrictions are part of a new “Khashoggi ban” that bans visas for anyone acting on behalf of a foreign government who is believed to have carried out “serious, extraterritorial activities against dissidents”.

“Jamal Khashoggi paid with his life to express his beliefs,” said Blinken.

“President Biden said in a statement released last October on the second anniversary of the murder that Mr Khashoggi’s death would not be in vain and that we owe it to his memory to fight for a fairer and freer world,” he said Secretary of State said.

The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force and former Deputy Head of the Kingdom’s Intelligence Service, Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al-Asiri.

“Absolute Control”

The ODNI report states: “Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control over the kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, so it is highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this type without the Crown Prince’s approval.”

The CIA-led assessment that had so far been classified comes from President Joe Biden, who aims to reshape US relations with Saudi Arabia after years of the Trump administration’s condemnation of the kingdom’s human rights abuses despite condemnation in Congress and ignored at the United Nations.

The Trump administration refused to submit a report to Congress in 2019 on who was responsible for Khashoggi’s death. The legislature had requested the report under the Magnitsky Act, which would have required sanctions against those responsible for the killing.

Khashoggi, a 59-year-old American and a Washington Post columnist, joined the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 and never left.

He was killed by a group of assassins who then dismembered his body. His remains were never recovered.

Robert Mahoney, Deputy Executive Director of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, speaks during a press conference to appeal to the United Nations on the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the United Nations in New York, United States on October 18, 2018.

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

“The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the kingdom and largely supported the use of violent measures to silence him,” the ODNI report reads.

“Although Saudi officials planned an unspecified operation against Khashoggi in advance, we don’t know how far in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him.”

Recalibrate relationships

California Democrat Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intel Committee, called on the White House on Friday to impose “serious repercussions on all those responsible” for Khashoggi’s assassination and, as a result, to reassess US relations with Saudi Arabia of the intelligence report.

“We need to make sure that foreign governments targeting journalists just for their jobs are not immune from severe repercussions and sanctions, because to restore confidence in American leadership we must act in accordance with the values ​​that America sets.” for a long time, “said Schiff.

“The government should take further steps to reduce the United States’ dependence on Riyadh and reaffirm that our partnership with the Kingdom is not a blank check,” he added.

In a diplomatic reprimand to the Crown Prince this week, the White House made it clear that Biden does not see 35-year-old bin Salman as his counterpart and will instead have relationships through his aging father, King Salman. Bin Salman has been the public face of the kingdom since he became Crown Prince in 2017.

The Trump administration maintained relationships through the Crown Prince, who maintained close personal relationships with members of the Trump family, particularly Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of former President Donald Trump.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday: “On Saudi Arabia, I would say that we made it clear from the start that we will recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

On Thursday, in his first conversation with the 85-year-old King, Biden reiterated “the importance the United States attaches to universal human rights and the rule of law,” according to a White House ad.

Biden also told the king that he “will work to make bilateral relations as strong and transparent as possible,” the White House said. Khashoggi’s name was not mentioned in the advertisement.

Biden’s review of relations with Saudi Arabia is part of a broader US foreign policy shift in the Middle East. The president has ended US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and is trying to return to the negotiating table with Iran, Riyadh’s enemy, through its nuclear program.

Biden “also discussed regional security” in his appeal with King Salman on Thursday, citing his government’s efforts to end the war in Yemen “and the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory since it faces attacks by Iranian-centric groups, “White House ad said.

Biden and the King “also confirmed the historical nature of the relationship and agreed to work together on issues of mutual interest,” according to the White House.

Saudi denial, Trump’s doubts

“It could very well be that the Crown Prince was aware of this tragic event – maybe he did it and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said less than two months after Khashoggi’s death. Trump’s conciliatory stance contrasted sharply with outrage from members of Congress and the media over the Khashoggi assassination.

Trump made Saudi Arabia his first stop in the Middle East when he made his debut in the region in 2017. The kingdom rolled out the red carpet for the former reality star.

The Trump administration used its ties with the Gulf monarchies to normalize relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The former president also vetoed attempts by Congress to block billions in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and an attempt to end US involvement in the war in Yemen.