On the defense against criticism of their decision not to sanction the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia for the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the United States urged Riyadh to take new measures, on Monday March 1, in particular against the squadron involved in the murder. In a US intelligence report released Friday at the request of President Joe Biden, while Donald Trump had kept it secret, Washington publicly accused the powerful Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said MBS, of having “validated” the assassination of Saudi journalist in 2018 in Istanbul.
But the American government paradoxically did not sanction the young leader, in order to avoid an open crisis with the Gulf oil kingdom. The punitive measures announced thus target a close friend of MBS and the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force, accused of being involved in the murder. “We urge Saudi Arabia to dismantle this group,” US diplomacy spokesman Ned Price said on Monday of this elite unit.
The Rapid Intervention Force, nicknamed “the Tiger Squadron”, was overseen by Saoud al-Qahtani, a former adviser to Mohammed bin Salman at the royal court. According to Washington, seven of its members were part of the commando that killed Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. This unit “exists to protect the crown prince, responds only to him and has participated directly, before that, in operations to silence dissidents in the kingdom and abroad on the order of the crown prince”, writes the intelligence American in its report, specifying that its members “would not have participated in the operation against Khashoggi without the authorization of Mohammed ben Salman”.
Joe Biden criticized even in his own camp
In addition, Ned Price asserted that the Biden administration is calling for “systemic institutional reforms as well as control mechanisms to ensure that activities and operations against dissidents cease, and cease altogether.” He also called on Riyadh “to take additional measures” in favor of human rights, in particular by lifting the travel ban which has left activists recently placed on parole in place.
President Joe Biden, who had promised before his election to make Saudi leaders “pay” for their responsibility in the death of Jamal Khashoggi and to treat them as “outcasts”, is criticized for the timidity of his response. Several elected Democrats urge him to go further by sanctioning MBS. Same disappointment on the part of Hatice Cengiz, the Turkish fiancee of the murdered journalist, who judged “imperative that the crown prince” be “punished without delay”.
For its part, the White House has once again invoked an unwritten and variable geometry rule according to which the United States does not sanction the leaders of countries with which it has diplomatic relations. Pressed with questions, presidential spokeswoman Jen Psaki vaguely assured that action against MBS was not ruled out in the future.
Ned Price also implicitly hinted at the threat of adding the prince, who de facto controls the kingdom, to the list of Saudis banned from entering the United States and also hinted that he was not necessarily welcome in the near future.