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The Khashoggi case

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of journalist and activist Jamal Khashoggi, who was barbarously murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in 2018, has made a public plea to punish the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman. In recent days, the Saudi crown prince has been accused by a US 007 report of being responsible for the murder of the Saudi journalist. In a statement, Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée said: “It is imperative that the Crown Prince who ordered the murder of an innocent person must be punished immediately”. Consequently, she does not accept the Biden administration’s decision to exclude the Crown Prince of Riyadh from the list of those who will be affected by US sanctions for the murder of the reporter.

The fact

On 3 October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, dissident and Washington Post columnist, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain divorce papers but he was murdered inside.

Subsequent investigations and enquiries showed that he had been killed by a commando of eleven Saudi men sent by Mohammed bin Salman, who was immediately suspected.

In the following days, Turkish newspapers revealed photos and details of the eleven men who took part in the killing. The news was learned by Turkish newspapers through sources within the security forces and the Turkish government.

Mohammed Bin Salman over the years has always denied his involvement in the affair, but surprisingly in October 2019 he decided to take “full responsibility as the leader of Saudi Arabia, especially since the murder was committed by individuals who were working for the Saudi government.”

Then the same Saudi country also decided to set up a trial, which was far from transparent, against the alleged perpetrators of the murder. The trial ended with eight sentences: five people were sentenced to death, the remaining three to 24 years in prison.

It should be noted that the name of Saud al Qahtani was not mentioned either among the accused or the convicted. Saud al Qahtani, a former adviser to the Saudi royal court, who had been dismissed (on paper) in 2018 on suspicion of having played a role in the killing of the journalist, remained a close collaborator of Mohammed bin Salman, albeit in the shadows.

The CIA report

On 26 February 2021, the United States released the full version of a four-page report from 2018 drafted by their intelligence services on the Jamal Khashoggi case.

In the report, written by the Central Intelligence Agency, more commonly known as the CIA, which is the international spy agency of the US federal government, there are direct accusations against the Crown Prince and de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, of being the instigator of the murder. In addition, the report mentions another 21 people responsible for the journalist’s death.

The CIA text states, in no uncertain terms, that “Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi”.

The report in question, however, is not new to the chronicles, in fact, in November 2018 some excerpts came out in some US newspapers, but the former US president, Donald Trump, branded the excerpts in question as “fake news” and in addition banned the report in question from being published in its entirety.

The objective?

Well, simple. To try to maintain good relations with the Saudi dictatorship.

In fact, we can say on the basis of the evidence of previous events that Trump has done everything to maintain good relations with the Saudis, especially in an anti-Iranian key. Moreover, it must be remembered that during his presidency Donald Trump has significantly increased his support for the Saudis in the Yemeni war and has also given a sort of tacit green light to the decision of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to isolate Qatar, in what would later become one of the biggest crises in the Persian Gulf in recent years.

The US position

From an operative point of view, the decision taken by the new US President Joe Biden to make the report public marks in a certain sense a change of approach by the US administration in its relations with Saudi Arabia. This is a further signal after the one given in the first days of the new presidency. In fact, in his first days as the new president, Joe Biden made an announcement stating that the United States would stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and stop supporting it in its war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

However, despite these statements and methods, it should be pointed out that the United States has no intention of cutting relations with the Gulf monarchy, but rather the intention is to “recalibrate relations with Riyadh” after the Trump four-year term. In fact, Saudi Arabia, as it was diplomatically emphasized during the talks held last Thursday, February 26 between the two heads of State ( Joe Biden and Mohammed bin Salman), is and will remain one of the main allies of the United States in the Middle East and not only.

What is certain is that Washington will never try to strike Mohammed Bin Salman from a legal point of view, in fact, the White House has made it known that the United States will intervene in other ways and that there are “more effective methods” to deal with Saudi Arabia’s responsibility in the Khashoggi murder.

This, as everyone can imagine, in order to preserve the close relations with one of their main and strategic allies in the Middle East area.

On this subject, Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, replied to those who are asking for a hard punch against Mohammed bin Salman, that “the strategy that will be followed will be the strategy of diplomacy”.

In fact, the Biden administration, fearlessly, has only announced sanctions against 76 Saudi citizens, including several officials of the kingdom, but not against the Crown Prince, through withdrawal and visa restrictions.

During a CNN interview with White House spokesperson Dane Bash reminded Jen Psaki of Biden’s campaign promise on the issue. The response at the time was that he would target the people responsible for the murder. The spokesman, however, turned a deaf ear and simply stated that “there are more effective ways to ensure that this doesn’t happen again”.

Jen Psaki then had to admit that the administration wants to “leave room to work with the Saudis in areas of mutual agreement, where there is the national interest of the United States”. The spokeswoman later said that the US is recalibrating its position and relationship with Saudi Arabia, from an anti-Iran perspective, the sworn enemy of the US and others.

Jen Psaki concluded by saying that the decision not to sanction Mohammed bin Salman was also due to the fact that the United States does not usually sanction the leaders of countries with which it has diplomatic relations.

To conclude, we can rely on the words of Dennis Ross, former US envoy to the Middle East in various administrations, who states that: “It is hard to imagine any issue in the region where Saudi partnership and support does not play a significant role”, which is why the United States will never be able to do without its historic ally and why they are letting go of so many issues that remain and will remain cornerstones for liberal democracy, particularly human rights.

By Michele Brunori 

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