Feb 27, 2021 - World

U.S. cracks down on Saudi officials following Khashoggi report

Picture of Jamal Khashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi. Photo: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP via Getty Images

Biden administration officials on Friday announced visa restrictions and other sanctions on specific Saudi Arabian citizens in connection with the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Yes, but: While the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday released an unclassified report assessing that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation to "capture or kill" Khashoggi, the Biden administration declined to directly target MBS.

  • The decision not to sanction MBS highlights Biden's attempt to to recalibrate the Saudi relationship after the Trump administration made Riyadh's preferences in the Persian Gulf a priority for U.S. foreign policy, Axios' Hans Nichols writes.

The Treasury Department sanctioned Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, Saudi Arabia’s former deputy head of the General Intelligence Presidency, and Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force.

  • The move freezes any assets that the individuals held in the U.S. and prohibits any person in the U.S. from handling them.
  • "Those involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi must be held accountable. ... The United States stands united with journalists and political dissidents in opposing threats of violence and intimidation," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the "Khashoggi ban" on Friday, which consists of visa restrictions for 76 Saudi individuals "believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing."

  • "[W]e have introduced and announced a new policy that will apply the State Department’s ability to restrict and revoke visas to any individuals believed to be involved in extraterritorial activities targeting perceived dissidents or journalists – trying to harass them, surveil them, harm them or their families," Blinken said, per a statement.

Of note: The secretary of state stressed the importance of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia.

  • "We have significant ongoing interests," he noted in his Friday statement. "We remain committed to the defense of the kingdom."
  • "But we also want to make sure – and this is what the President has said from the outset – that the relationship better reflects our interests and our values. And so what we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship, but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values."
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