Washington has announced a set of measures against dozens of Saudi officials following a report on murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but said that maintaining good relations with Riyadh is “important to US interests.”
A total of 76 Saudi officials involved in what was described as “acts of repression” against various dissidents, including the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, have been banned from entering the US, State Department Spokesman Ned Price said on Monday as he announced the new strategy to “recalibrate” relations between Washington and Riyadh.
The measures also involved adding another former senior Saudi intelligence official to the US list of human rights violators under the Global Magnitsky Act. The Rapid Intervention Force – a unit of the Saudi Royal Guard supposedly engaged in the “counter-dissident operations,” according to Price – got on the list as well while Washington urged Riyadh to “disband the group” and abandon its anti-dissident practices.
The US fell short of sanctioning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even though an intelligence community report released on Friday accused the royal of approving the capture and killing of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Sunday that Washington would not resort to sanctions but opt for “more effective” measures instead. Yet, it seems that the measures announced on Monday were mostly focused on actively calling Riyadh to change its ways and respect “American values.”
“We seek a partnership that reflects our important work together, and our shared interests and priorities, but also one conducted with greater transparency responsibilities and in accord with the American values,” Price said.
The State Department spokesman repeatedly said that Washington sees “value in sustaining partnership” and would like to see the relations that “already span 80 years” to go forward.
“Our relationship with Saudi Arabia remains important. It is important to US interests and requires continued progress and reforms to ensure that this partnership rests on strong fundamentals and continues to advance our shared objectives in the Middle East,” Price said, as he named “forging ties across the region,” avoiding a war with Iran and “forging a historic peace agreement” between Riyadh and Tel Aviv among them.
The administration of President Joe Biden announced an end of US support to any offensive operations in Yemen, including through arms sales, and immediately halted two arms deals with the Saudis.
Price also said that Washington remains strongly “committed” to the Saudis’ national security and helped them “defend themselves” against UAVs and missiles launched by the Yemeni Houthi militants.
The United States joins the international community in announcing additional humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people. We will continue our leadership in responding to and finding the political solution for the crisis in Yemen. #YemenCantWaithttps://t.co/PIrKWwvhGY
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) March 1, 2021
While the US has condemned the killing of Khashoggi, it has avoided punishing Riyadh too harshly for it. In 2019, US President Donald Trump vetoed three bills from Congress that would have prohibited arms sales to the desert kingdom, despite pressure from both the Republicans and the Democrats.
Biden promised some tough action against the Saudi crown prince during his presidential campaign. He appears in no rush to follow through on those promises now that he is in office. Psaki said on Sunday that placing restrictions on “leaders of foreign governments” has simply not been the US way historically, though the presidents of Belarus, Venezuela and Iran may disagree.
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