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February 28, 2021

Biden says he will hold Saudi Arabia accountable for HR abuses

Top Story

February 28, 2021

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden has told Saudi Arabia's King Salman that he will "hold them accountable for human rights abuses".

The president's warning came after a newly declassified intelligence report concluded that the kingdom's crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman, is likely to have approved an operation to kill or capture a US-based journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Speaking to Univision News, Mr Biden confirmed that he had spoken to King Salman on Thursday, and had warned there will be "significant changes" in the country's relationship with the US.

The report, contributed to mostly by the CIA, said the crown prince's "absolute control" of the kingdom's intelligence organisations would make it highly unlikely that such an operation could have been carried out without his authorisation.

Mr Khashoggi, 59, had visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, planning to pick up documents needed for his wedding.

Once inside, he died at the hands of more than a dozen Saudi security and intelligence officials and others who had assembled ahead of his arrival. Surveillance cameras had tracked his route and those of his alleged killers in Istanbul in the hours leading up to his killing.

A Turkish bug planted at the consulate reportedly captured the sound of a forensic saw, operated by a Saudi colonel who was also a forensics expert, dismembering Mr Khashoggi's body within an hour of him entering the building. His body has still not been found.

In 2019, the crown prince said he took "full responsibility" for the killing since it happened on his watch, but denied ordering it.

Saudi officials have said Mr Khashoggi's killing was the work of rogue Saudi security and intelligence officials.

Saudi Arabian courts last year announced they had sentenced eight Saudi nationals to prison. They were not identified. Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry rejected the accusation, calling the report's assessment "negative, false and unacceptable" and its conclusion "unjustified and inaccurate".

A statement called the murder "an abhorrent crime and a flagrant violation of the kingdom's laws and values".

The central conclusion of the report was widely expected - given that intelligence officials were said to have reached it soon after the brutal murder of Mr Khashoggi. He had written opinion columns for the Washington Post that were critical of the crown prince's policies. But it will be seen as an extraordinary rebuke of the ambitious 35-year-old Saudi leader, and is likely to set the tone for the Biden administration's relationship with the kingdom.

Mr Biden has previously criticised Saudi Arabia, but in some contexts, the White House also regards it as a strategic partner.

Following the release of the report, a statement from US secretary of state Antony Blinken described it as a "horrific killing" and announced new visa restrictions.

The statement said: "The Khashoggi Ban allows the State Department to impose 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..."

"...including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities with respect to the families or other close associates of such persons.

"Family members of such individuals also may be subject to visa restrictions under this policy, where appropriate." It added: "While the US remains invested in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has made clear that partnership must reflect US values.

"To that end, we have made absolutely clear that extraterritorial threats and assaults by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents, and journalists must end. They will not be tolerated by the United States."