Jen Psaki suggested Sunday that Joe Biden will not directly issue sanctions against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, claiming there are better ways for the president to retaliate for journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
‘We believe there is more effective ways to make sure this doesn’t happen again and to also be able to leave room to work with the Saudis on areas where there is mutual agreement – where there is national interests for the United States,’ Psaki told CNN.
‘That is what diplomacy looks like,’ Biden’s press secretary said during an interview with ‘State of the Union’ on Sunday morning.
The president’s spokesperson was specifically asked why the U.S. was punishing people under the Crown Prince, but not MBS himself.
She called Khashoggi’s 2018 murder a ‘horrific crime.’
‘That is what complicated global engagement looks like and we have made no secret and been clear we are going to hold them accountable on the global stage and with direct actions,’ Psaki added.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday that ‘there are more effective ways’ to hold Saudi Crown Prince MBS responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing then issuing sanctions
The comment comes after President Joe Biden, pictured leaving church on Sunday, said Saturday that his administration would make an announcement on Saudi Arabia on Monday
Pictured, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman arrives at Diriyah E-Prix 2021 in Riyadh on Saturday. Biden has faced criticism for not being tougher on MBS
Biden said on Saturday that his administration would make an announcement on Saudi Arabia on Monday.
It follows a U.S. intelligence report that found Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The Biden administration has faced some criticism that the president should have been tougher on the crown prince, who was not sanctioned despite being blamed for approving Khashoggi’s murder.
Asked about punishing the crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, who is also known as MBS, Biden said: ‘There will be an announcement on Monday as to what we are going to be doing with Saudi Arabia generally.’
Biden did not provide details.
Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote opinion columns for the Washington Post critical of MBS policies, was killed and dismembered by a team of operatives linked to the prince in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
The intelligence report released Friday, which had been withheld after being completed under Trump, said it was ‘highly unlikely’ that Khashoggi’s murder could have taken place without his green light.
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi pictured in 2012. He was last seen on October 2, 2018
The report points to the crown prince’s ‘absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations,’ where his authority is already well established.
The killing of Khashoggi also fits a pattern of ‘the crown prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad’, it added.
But Saudi observers dismissed the highly anticipated report, with Ali Shihabi, a government adviser close to the kingdom’s royal court, saying the ‘thin’ assessment lacked a ‘smoking gun’.
The Saudi government, which has denied any involvement by the crown prince, on Friday issued a statement rejecting the U.S. report’s findings and repeating its previous statements that Khashoggi’s killing was a heinous crime by a rogue group.
Soon after the report was made public, the Arabic hashtag ‘We are all MBS’ began trending on Twitter, with pro-government cyber armies tweeting in support of the Saudi heir apparent.
The Saudi leadership is ‘untouchable’, screamed a front-page headline in the pro-government Okaz newspaper, which also denounced the report.
On Friday, Biden had said in an interview with Univision that he would hold Saudi Arabia ‘accountable’, adding that he had spoken with King Salman about the decision.
‘I spoke yesterday with the king … Made it clear to him that the rules are changing and we’re going to be announcing significant changes today and on Monday. We are going to hold them accountable for human rights abuses,’ Biden said.
‘If they want to deal with us, they will have to deal with it in a way that the human rights abuses are dealt with,’ he continued.
The president added that once he got his hands on the report, he worked to ‘immediately’ read and release it.
‘It is outrageous what happened,’ he asserted.
Pictured, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Saturday. A U.S. intelligence report that found the crown prince had approved the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman waves on Saturday just days after the report was made public in the U.S. claiming he had authorized Jamal Khashoggi’s killing
Despite the unequivocal conclusions of the assessment, the administration stopped short of imposing any diplomatic or economic sanctions on the heir to the throne of the influential ally.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained that Biden wants to ‘recalibrate’ but not ‘rupture’ its relations with Riyadh, a longstanding Middle East partner.
‘This is not the Saudi smack-down that many expected,’ said Varsha Koduvayur, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish Washington think-tank.
It indicates ‘Biden’s overall Saudi stance: put values at the heart of US foreign policy, emphasize human rights, and reverse the transactional approach of last four years (under Trump) — while preserving the relationship,’ Koduvayur added.
Among the punitive steps the United States took on Friday was the imposition of a visa ban on some Saudis believed involved in the Khashoggi killing and sanctions on others, including a former deputy intelligence chief, which would freeze their U.S. assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.
Biden has now said he will deal with Saudi Arabia on Monday. He is pictured above with First Lady Jill Biden as they walk to board Marine One on Saturday afternoon
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden exit Marine One as they walk to board Air Force One on Saturday. Biden said he read and released the Saudi report as soon as he could
President and First Lady are pictured on Saturday stepping off Air Force One
Blinken released a statement stating the world was ‘horrified’ by Khashoggi’s killing and announcing a new ‘Khashoggi ban’ visa restriction on people linked to ‘counter-dissident activities.’
He said the government has acted against 76 individuals but did not identify Khashoggi.
The public censure of the prince along with US sanctions marks a sharp departure from the policy of former president Trump, who sought to shield the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
Biden had pledged during his campaign to make the kingdom a ‘pariah’ after it got a free pass under Trump, but observers say he is instead adopting a middle path.
While scrutinizing human rights, his new administration is working to preserve a valuable security partnership as it moves to reboot nuclear talks with Riyadh’s arch-enemy Tehran.
Biden also needs to deal with the top crude producer on the highly fraught issues of energy, counterterrorism, and efforts to end the conflict in Yemen.
‘The Biden foreign policy team is comprised of seasoned experts who are not so naive as to think that they can achieve their goals in the Middle East without dealing with a Saudi state that still anchors, though in a less totalizing way, both oil and security in the Gulf,’ said Kristin Diwan of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
‘For this reason, they have ruled out the sanctioning of Mohammed bin Salman, preserving space to deal with the Saudi state and its top leadership.’
The office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi that identified the crown prince approved the killing
Recent official statements from Washington have called Saudi Arabia a ‘security partner’, instead of what the Trump administration highlighted as an ‘ally’ and a key buyer of US military hardware.
In an apparent snub earlier this week, Biden insisted on making his first Saudi phone call to 85-year-old King Salman, even as Saudi pro-government supporters insisted that his son, Prince Mohammed, was the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler.
‘Washington realizes that MBS could go on to rule Saudi Arabia for the next half century, so it cannot afford to completely alienate him,’ a Western diplomat told AFP.
‘But it is also making clear that it will no longer give him a free pass.’
The crown prince has denied involvement in the October 2018 murder of Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident.
MBS did accept responsibility for the assassination as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. And Riyadh eventually admitted that Khashoggi was killed in a ‘rogue’ extradition operation gone wrong.
Five men were given the death penalty for the journalist’s murder but had their sentences commuted to 20 years in prison after being forgiven by Khashoggi’s family.
Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia in September 2017 to live in self-imposed exile.
He was writing columns critical of the Saudi government – including of both King Salman and MBS – for The Washington Post when he was killed.
In October 2018, Khashoggi visited the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, to pick up the paperwork required for his marriage to a Turkish citizen. He was never seen leaving.
This video grab made on October 10, 2018 from CCTV footage obtained from Turkish news agency DHA shows Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (R) arriving at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. He vanished the same day after entering the consulate to obtain official documents ahead of his marriage to his Turkish fiancee