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US cracks down on Saudi officials following Khashoggi report

Oriana Gonzalez

WASHINGTON DC: 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 Moha-mmed bin Salman approv-ed the operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, the Bi-den 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 Departm-ent sanctioned Ahmad Ha-ssan 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 Ant-ony Blinken announced the “Khashoggi ban” on Friday, which consists of visa restrictions for 76 Saudi individuals “believed to ha-ve 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.”

In five weeks, Biden has ended support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen, frozen a large arms deal and snubbed MBS by declining to speak with him directly. The moves come after Biden referred to the kingdom as a “pariah” on the campaign trail.

“We’ve been speaking quite frankly with Saudi leaders about the need for a different kind of relationship, based not only on our shared interests — and we do have many shared interests — but also one conducted with accountability and transparency and also taking into account the values of the United States of America,” a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday.

‘The aim is recalibration, not a rupture,” the official said, adding that Saudi Arabia had “lost both political parties and the support of the American people.”

Jamal Khashoggi was a prominent Saudi journalist and royal insider who became an outspoken critic of MBS in 2017 after the newly appointed crown prince began cracking down on dissent, even as he led a campaign of social and economic reforms.

Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia in 2017 and went into self-imposed exile in Virginia, where he wrote columns for the Washin-gton Post that were frequently critical of the regime.

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