Justice for Khashoggi?

 

Justice for Khashoggi?

The Biden administration has confirmed what the world already knew, that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the assassination of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. The US intelligence report, released last Friday, makes a case that is incontrovertible. It notes that bin Salman, known as MbS, has “absolute control” of the kingdom’s security services; and that the hit squad waiting for Khashoggi when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to complete his divorce paperwork was led by a close adviser of MbS, and included members of his personal security detail. The original plan may have been to abduct and torture him, not kill him on the spot. Either way, the report “bluntly” pins the murder on MbS – who, it says, “supported violent measures” to “silence” Khashoggi. Releasing it, as Donald Trump refused to do, “signals a new era in US-Saudi relations”.

It’s true that Joe Biden has put a stop to the “grotesque” coddling of MbS by his predecessor, The White House has insisted that the president will speak not to him, but to Saudi Arabia’s “titular head of state”, King Salman. It has also ended the sale of arms used in Saudi’s “disastrous intervention” in Yemen’s civil war, and has pushed it to end its blockade of neighbouring Qatar. More than 70 Saudis involved in anti-dissident activities are now facing so-called “Khashoggi sanctions”: travel bans and asset freezes. But Biden has drawn the line against taking any action against the Crown Prince himself. This amounts to granting “a pass” to a leader who has “sown instability” around the region – and who murdered Khashoggi, a US resident. On the campaign trail, Biden promised to make Saudi a “pariah”,  But when push came to shove, MbS was “too big to punish”, even though he shows no signs of changing his ways. Last month, a Saudi dissident living in Canada disappeared; he later re-emerged in the Kingdom.

Biden was right to “think twice about alienating the Saudis”, who are “rare US friends” in the Middle East, MbS, as de facto ruler or king, may be in power for decades. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he wanted to “recalibrate” the relationship, not “rupture” it. Any real break would only “help adversaries in Tehran, Moscow and Beijing”. During the Cold War, Saudi Arabia was seen as a bulwark against Soviet power, A pragmatic alliance meant “the US received a steady supply of oil, and the Saudis a US security guarantee”. But with both Russian power and Saudi oil exports to the US drastically reduced, things have changed. If the Khashoggi affair convinces Biden to treat Saudi “as a normal country, instead of a friend with special privileges”, the late journalist will have left a considerable “legacy”.

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