The United States has decided not to punish the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, whom it nevertheless accuses of consenting to the killing of a journalist, a move that creates frustration among activists and shows that Washington does not want to separate from a major ally.
On Friday, too late, Washington released an intelligence report accusing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of agreeing to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
The document angered Riyadh, which “completely rejected the false and harmful conclusions” of the report.
The public criticism of the prince and the series of US sanctions on dozens of Saudi officials represent a drastic change in policy to former President Donald Trump, who has sought to protect the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.
However, the new administration in Washington has not imposed direct sanctions on Prince Mohammed, known by his initials, Mohammed bin Salman. Then Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made it clear that Biden wanted to “recalibrate” and not “sever” his ties with Riyadh, its longtime partner in the Middle East.
“This is not the Saudi coup that many expected,” said Varsha Kudovior, an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative think tank in Washington.
The document’s conclusions refer to “Biden’s position on Saudi Arabia: placing values at the core of US foreign policy, emphasizing human rights, and reversing the approach of transactions in the past four years.” [bajo Trump]”While preserving the relationship,” the analyst added.
– They ask for penalties –
For the American non-governmental organization Freedom House, it is disappointing and frustrating that the United States is still not prepared to act on the basis of its own intelligence or to impose sanctions on the Saudi prince.
“We only expect justice for Jamal Khashoggi and all of the brave dissidents in Saudi Arabia,” said the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, which produced “The Opposition,” a documentary about the journalist’s murder.
The foundation stressed that “the United States and the European Union must impose urgent and direct sanctions on Mohammed bin Salman.”
The intelligence report, which was withheld after it was completed during the Trump administration, indicates that it is “extremely unlikely” that the Khashoggi assassination took place without his green light.
The report added that the assassination of Khashoggi, who was a columnist for the Washington Post and criticized Prince Mohammed, also corresponds to “the crown prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad,” which Saudi observers denied.
– Keeping relationships –
Joe Biden had pledged during his election campaign to turn the conservative kingdom into a “pariah” state, treated leniently during the Trump administration, but observers say he is taking a middle path instead.
While examining human rights implementation, his new administration is expected to work to maintain valuable security cooperation while preparing for a possible nuclear dialogue with Tehran, the archenemy of Riyadh.
Additionally, with Saudi Arabia, the major oil producer, Biden will also have to address some sensitive issues related to energy, counterterrorism, and conflict in Yemen, where Riyadh is heavily involved.
“Biden’s foreign policy team is made up of experts who are not naive enough to believe that they can achieve their goals in the Middle East without having to deal with a Saudi country” important to the United States, whether in terms of oil or oil security. The Gulf, said Christine Diwan of the Arab Gulf Institute in Washington.
“This is why they have exempted Mohammed bin Salman from the sanctions, thus preserving the space needed to maneuver to deal with the Saudi state and its leaders,” the analyst added.
However, Washington announced on Friday that the “Khashoggi Law”, which would prevent foreigners threatening dissidents from entering the United States and blacklisted 76 Saudis, could act as a powerful deterrent.
Recent official statements by Washington described Saudi Arabia as a “security partner”, in contrast to what the Trump administration described as an “ally.”
However, a Western diplomat told AFP that “Washington understands that Mohammed bin Salman can rule Saudi Arabia for the next half century, so it cannot tolerate complete hostility.” “But he also makes clear that he will no longer give him an absolute mandate,” he concluded.