Our fragile diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia would apparently be jeopardized if the Biden administration actually leveled travel sanctions against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan for ordering of the death of US journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
So what will Joe Biden actually do about it?
President Biden has decided that the price of directly penalizing Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is too high, according to senior administration officials, despite a detailed American intelligence finding that he directly approved the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident and Washington Post columnist who was drugged and dismembered in October 2018.
The decision by Mr. Biden, who during the 2020 campaign called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state with “no redeeming social value,” came after weeks of debate in which his newly formed national security team advised him that there was no way to formally bar the heir to the Saudi crown from entering the United States, or to weigh criminal charges against him, without breaching the relationship with one of America’s key Arab allies.
Officials said a consensus developed inside the White House that the price of that breach, in Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism and in confronting Iran, was simply too high.
For Mr. Biden, the decision was a telling indication of how his more cautious instincts kicked in, and it will deeply disappoint the human rights community and members of his own party who complained during the Trump administration that the United States was failing to hold the crown prince, known by his initials M.B.S., accountable for his role.
Many organizations were pressing Mr. Biden to, at a minimum, impose the same travel sanctions against the crown prince as the Trump administration imposed on others involved in the plot.
Mr. Biden’s aides said that as a practical matter, Prince Mohammed would not be invited to the United States anytime soon, and they denied that they were giving Saudi Arabia a pass, describing series of new actions on lower-level officials intended to penalize elite elements of the Saudi military and impose new deterrents to human rights abuses.
Those actions, approved by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, include a travel ban on Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, who was deeply involved in the Khashoggi operation, and on the Rapid Intervention Force, a unit of the Saudi Royal Guard.
The declassified intelligence report concluded that the intervention force, which operates under the crown prince, directed the operation against Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Mr. Khashoggi entered the consulate on Oct. 2, 2018, to get papers he needed for his forthcoming marriage, and, with his fiancée waiting outside the gates, was instead met by an assassination team.
An effort by the Saudi government to issue a cover story, contending that Mr. Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed, collapsed in days.
President Joe Biden on Saturday said his administration would make an announcement on Saudi Arabia on Monday, following a U.S. intelligence report that found Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Biden administration has faced some criticism, notably an editorial in the Washington Post, 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.”
So we'll find out soon.