In another sign of the anxiety within the Biden administration over the fallout from last week’s intelligence report which blamed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for the grisly killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the US State Department has refused to say whether Bin Salman is one of the Saudi officials subject to US visa restrictions.
The visa restriction named the “Khashoggi Ban”, was introduced on Friday following the long-awaited release of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s (ODNI) declassified report. Announcing the new visa restriction policy immediately after the release of the ODNI report Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the ban would be applied “on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.” In total 76 people from Saudi Arabia were banned.
However despite holding the crown prince, known popularly as MBS, responsible for Khashoggi’s killing the US has refused to say whether the de-facto ruler of the kingdom is included on the list or if the 35 year-old will be penalised at all.
“We’re not in a position to detail the identity of those included in that list of 76, nor will we be able to preview those who may be added in the future,” said State Department spokesperson, Ned Price yesterday.When pressed on whether MBS is on the list, he added: “I’m not including or excluding anyone specifically on that list. Having said that, I’m certainly not aware of any plans for the crown prince to travel to the United States in the near term.” Price laid out what was described as a “recalibration” of US relations with Saudi Arabia which he stressed was “not a rupture”.
The Biden administration has been reluctant to penalise MBS. It believes that the diplomatic cost is too high. The decision has provoked anger amongst rights groups who were expecting a firmer stance on human rights from the new president especially since it was Biden himself who called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state with “no redeeming social value”.