Khashoggi murder: US calls tougher Saudi stance a recalibration, not a rupture
President Joe Biden’s approach to Saudi Arabia represents a “recalibration” and not a break in historically close ties, as the U.S. plans to make respect for human rights more central to its policy toward the kingdom, a State Department spokesman said.
“We will never check our values at the door even when it comes to our closest security relationships,” spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing Monday. “We feel we can have the most influence over this partnership when it’s cast as a recalibration, not a rupture.”
The new tone follows the administration’s decision last week to declassify and release an intelligence report done during the Trump administration that concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill” Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in 2018.
It’s also meant to change course after four years in which President Donald Trump placed close ties with Saudi Arabia at the center of U.S. policy in the Middle East. His first overseas trip as president was to the kingdom, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner developed a close relationship with the crown price.
At the same time, the Biden administration has indicated it’s only willing to go so far. The U.S. has held off imposing sanctions directly against the crown prince, and Price offered little new information a day after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the State Department would provide “more details and elaborate” on the administration’s approach.
Price declined to detail the list of people who are subject to a new policy, announced Friday, known as the “Khashoggi ban,” which imposes visa limits on anyone who violates the rights of dissidents beyond their country’s borders. On Friday, 76 Saudi individuals were put on that list.
The decision not to directly target Prince Mohammed drew criticism from human rights activists and supporters of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who was killed by a Saudi hit team after he visited the country’s consulate in Istanbul to pick up some marriage documents.
“It appears as though under the Biden administration, despots who offer momentarily strategic value to the United States might be given a ‘one free murder’ pass,” Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan wrote on Monday. “We should not make exceptions to favor one brutal dictator over another based on favors they do for us or fears that they might not always respond as we would like them to.”