U.S.-Saudi Tensions Rise As Intelligence Report Over Journalist Jamal Khashoggi Released

In a unprecedented move, the Biden administration has released a CIA intelligence report on the murder of Washington Post Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, that reveals Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the murder of the journalist. The declassified report concludes that an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi was approved by the Prince. Khashoggi was murdered in 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The United States has now announced a new ban that allows them to restrict visas for individuals “acting on behalf of foreign governments who are directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.”

The report clearly states that “Bin Salman viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary, to silence him.”  The report also noted that at the time of Khashoggi’s murder, “the crown prince fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that failure to complete assigned tasks might result in him firing or arresting them.”

In a press conference, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “what we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship, but to recalibrate it, to be more in line with our interests and our values. And I think that we have to understand as well that this is bigger than any one person.” The Saudi Foreign Ministry released a statement saying the country “completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions. Saudi Prince Mohammed has denied any involvement in the murder but said he bears responsibility as it happened on his watch.

The Biden administration has been making waves ever since this government was sworn in and the recent move of declassifiying the CIA report represents transparency and undoing Trump’s effort to not release the document. This move has also signalled that the United States will not be ignoring human right abuses or other blatent display of injustice despite its oli and arms trade. While Biden has called Saudi Arabia for accountability, the administration still treads carefully with its major ally in the middle east. This also means that Saudi Arabia’s oil and its dealings are far more important that even the U.S. dare not make a move against them. 

Jamal Khashoggi was a well-known critic of the Saudi royal family and wrote columns for the Washington Post. In 2018, Khashoggi travelled to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul,  Turkey to obtain documents for his marriage with his Turkish fiance. While Kashoggi was seen entering the consulate there was no record of him leaving. While rumours initially floated around stating that he was killed and dismembered inside the consulate, Saudi Arabia initially denied all involvement. However, it was later stated that the murder was premeditated and the remains were never found. Saudi Arabia sentenced five people for 20 years each in prison for the murder of Khashoggi.

The U.S. Treasury department has also imposed sanctions against a former Saudi intelligence official, Ahmed Hassan Mohammed al Asiri. Experts have suggested that the Biden administration would continue to take smaller measures but would not create a wave. However more sanctions against Saudi Arabia are expected in the upcoming times. Major news publications has criticised the Biden administration for not taking further actions against the Saudi Prince and has expressed their disappointment. 

Karuna Balasubramanian
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