U.S. presses Saudi Arabia over killing of Khashoggi

U.S. urges Riyadh to disband group responsible for murder

March 02, 2021 10:08 pm | Updated 10:10 pm IST - Washington

The U.S. on Monday pressed Saudi Arabia to take further measures after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as Washington faced growing criticism that it did not directly target Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

President Joe Biden on Friday released an intelligence report that found that Prince Mohammed approved the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, a U.S.-based contributor to The Washington Post who was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he was strangled to death and dismembered.

The report — classified under former president Donald Trump, a close ally of the Saudis — found that seven of the 15 members of the hit squad that flew to Istanbul came from the Rapid Intervention Force, which it said “exists to defend the Crown Prince” and “answers only to him.”

“We have urged Saudi Arabia to disband this group and then adopt institutional, systemic reforms and controls to ensure that anti-dissident activities and operations cease and cease completely,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “We have made crystal clear — and will continue to do so — that the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi 28 months ago remains unacceptable conduct,” Mr. Price said.

‘Lift ban on activist’

He also called on Riyadh to act on other fronts, including lifting a travel ban on Loujain al-Hathloul, an advocate for women’s right to drive in the ultra-conservative kingdom who was provisionally freed in January after nearly three years in jail.

The Biden administration imposed sanctions on the Rapid Intervention Forceand said it was banning entry into the U.S. of 76 Saudis.

Mr. Biden has sought to “recalibrate” Saudi alliance and has already said the U.S. will end support for offensive operations in Yemen.

But the administration stopped short of personally targeting the 35-year-old crown prince — the de facto leader as well as Defence Minister. Asked why no action was taken against the Prince, also known by his initials MBS, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the U.S. does not typically sanction foreign leaders. But she hinted that Prince Mohammed was not permanently off the hook.

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