The Biden administration is preparing a new policy that it will unveil following the imminent public release of a U.S. intelligence report regarding the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, three sources confirm to News.
The policy guidelines will lay out consequences for future attacks on journalists working for U.S. outlets. It will put foreign governments in the U.S. government’s crosshairs if they target journalists like Khashoggi, who was a Washington Post contributing columnist and U.S. resident.
The directive will apply to all foreign governments, not just the Saudi kingdom. Two U.S. officials confirmed that it will come from the State Department. In other words, it will not carry the weight of a presidential executive order but it will allow the Biden administration to show it is being responsive to the brutal murder. On the campaign trail, then-candidate Joe Biden had said there was no doubt in his mind that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the killing of Khashoggi. Now, President Biden must navigate a complicated relationship with the U.S. ally that remains a key geostrategic partner and the largest purchaser of U.S. made weapons in the world.
Khashoggi was killed in October 2018 after entering a Saudi consulate in Istanbul. While he had been close to many Saudi royals, he had been critical of MBS in particular. The Turkish government turned over an audio recording of the brutal killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi to a number of Western governments including the U.S.
News reported in 2018 that the CIA concluded MBS ordered Khashoggi’s death, according to a U.S. official familiar with the intelligence. MBS has denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s killing. In a 2019 60 Minutes interview, Norah O’Donnell specifically asked him whether he’d ordered the killing. The Crown Prince responded: “Absolutely not. This was a heinous crime. But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.”
In 2018, the Trump administration sanctioned 17 Saudi nationals for the murder but stopped short of acknowledging the role of the Crown Prince. The Saudi government sentenced 8 individuals to prison terms ranging from 7-20 years.
Mr. Biden spoke Thursday with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, MBS’ father. The White House readout of the call did not mention the forthcoming report. The two “discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” the White House said.
The Biden administration has focused its early diplomatic efforts so far on pursuing an end to the brutal Saudi-led military campaign and broader conflict in Yemen. It has temporarily halted weapons sales to Saudi Arabia as it “recalibrates” its options. The Saudi war effort is led by MBS, who also serves as Defense Minister in addition to his role as heir apparent.
The White House readout did not mention the Crown Prince but did mention broader concerns about human rights. “The president noted positively the recent release of several Saudi-American activists and Ms. Loujain al-Hathloul from custody, and affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” the White House readout continued. “The president told King Salman he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible. The two leaders affirmed the historic nature of the relationship and agreed to work together on mutual issues of concern and interest.”