As a candidate, Joe Biden vowed to take a tough stance on Saudi Arabia, calling the oil-producing nation a “pariah.”
But now in power, President Biden has pulled his punches. On Friday, the Biden Administration released a long-awaited intelligence report linking Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Yet, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that 76 people from Saudi Arabia would be banned from the U.S., the crown prince is not among those penalized.
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 State Department’s so-called “Khashoggi Ban,” announced on Friday, levies visa restrictions on individuals “who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.”
But there’s an obvious tension between the findings of the report and the fact that the crown prince is not subject to the new visa restriction policy. The report claims:
“Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization.”
Democratic lawmakers applauded the Biden Administration’s handling of the Khashoggi investigation. In a statement Senator Ron Wyden (OR-D) said,
“His courageous journalism cost Jamal his life. Yet, for years, the last administration shielded the Saudi regime from any kind of responsibility or scrutiny. Today, thanks to President Biden and DNI Haines, America is sending the message that this lawlessness won’t stand.”
Earlier this month, President Biden announced that he was banning billions of dollars in arms shipments to Saudi Arabia, calling the country’s war in Yemen a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.”
But when it comes to specifically targeting the powerful Mohammed bin Salman, the Biden Administration hasn’t differed much from the Trump Administration. The New York Times writes,
“…in the end, Mr. Biden came to essentially the same place on punishing the young and impetuous crown prince as did Mr. Trump and the secretary of state at the time, Mike Pompeo. While officials said there was no question the Prince Mohammed has ordered the killing and imprisonment of dissidents and other opponents, a ban would make it impossible to deal with the Saudis in the future.
On January 6th, Bloomberg reported that “the U.S. didn’t import any Saudi crude last week for the first time in 35 years.”