After teasing an announcement that promised to detail “what we are going to be doing with Saudi Arabia generally,” the Biden administration addressed the Kingdom at a Monday press conference—and delivered nothing new.
The announcement followed the declassification of a much-anticipated intel report on the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Released on Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the report squarely concluded that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman “approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
But instead of announcing any new measures against the Kingdom, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday reiterated previously announced measures, including the introduction of a new visa restriction policy dubbed the “Khashoggi Ban” on “individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.”
“Our objective is to recalibrate the relationship, prevent this from ever happening again, and find ways, as there are still, to work together with Saudi leadership while still making clear where we feel action is unacceptable,” said Psaki in Monday’s press briefing.
The United States has barred 76 Saudi nationals from entering the U.S. under the Khashoggi Ban so far, including Ahmed al-Asiri, the former deputy Saudi intelligence chief who has been accused of leading the operation to assassinate Khashoggi, and the Saudi Royal Guard’s Rapid Intervention Force (RIF), which was also singled out in the Friday report.
But in an apparent effort to preserve the United States’ relationship with the Kingdom, the administration has failed to impose sanctions on the crown prince himself, prompting widespread criticism from human rights activists.
“The aim is a recalibration (in ties)—not a rupture. That’s because of the important interests that we do share,” a senior Biden administration official told Reuters on Monday.
Responding to the release of the report, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry released a statement categorically denying the assessment.
“It is truly unfortunate that this report, with its unjustified and inaccurate conclusions, is issued while the Kingdom had clearly denounced this heinous crime,” the ministry said on Twitter. “The ministry notes that the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions."
During his campaign, Biden had made repeated pledges to hold the Kingdom accountable for its human-rights abuses, promising his administration would make Riyadh “pay the price” for its actions that would make them “in fact the pariah that they are.”