Washington DC – Less than two years ago, then-US presidential candidate Joe Biden responded “Yes“When asked if he would punish top Saudi leaders for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
But this week, just days before the third anniversary of the murder of the journalist On October 2, President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in the Gulf kingdom.
That, analysts say, is the latest example of Biden’s failure to deliver on his promise to seek responsibility for the murder and put human rights at the center of US foreign policy.
“This trip is truly a slap in the face for all of us who have been advocating for justice for Jamal Khashoggi,” said Raed Jarrar, director of advocacy for Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a group envisioned by Khashoggi and formally established After his death.
Relations between Riyadh and Washington are not as warm as they were under former President Donald Trump, who personally defended MBS amid widespread anger in Congress following the assassination, and the Biden administration has taken some steps to shed light on what happened.
Earlier this year, the administration released a short report on the US. intelligence community assessment of the assassination of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was murdered and dismembered after fetching documents from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
“We assess that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Salman, approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the report says.
The findings were rejected by the Saudi government, which blamed a group of dishonest officials for the murder. Eight anonymous defendants have been sentenced to between seven and 20 years in prison in Saudi Arabia for his alleged role in the murder.
Saudi officials initially insisted that Khashoggi escaped from the Istanbul consulate unharmed. More than two weeks later, the kingdom acknowledged the killing, but said it was the result of an unauthorized operation that took place without the knowledge of senior officials.
The release of the US report renewed calls for Washington to hold the crown prince accountable, but the Biden administration decided not to impose sanctions on bin Salman, arguing that sought to recalibrate – “no break” – ties with Riyadh.
Agnes Callamard, a former United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, expressed her disappointment with the Biden government this week, saying that “nothing much has changed” since the release of the intelligence community assessment.
“They have to be very careful that their claim to care about human rights, their commitment to democracy, their commitment to human rights, does not become a mere claim,” said Callamard, who is now Secretary General of Amnesty International. .
On his own report for the UN in 2019, Callamard concluded that the Saudi government was ultimately responsible for Khashoggi’s assassination.
Speaking at an event marking the anniversary of the murder on Thursday, Callamard said that while those who committed the murder have not yet been brought to justice, rights activists and the UN investigation have exposed them.
“We have certainly broken your veneer,” he said. “In my opinion, the emperor is naked.”
Khashoggi’s assassination came at a time when Democrats in Washington were already questioning then-President Trump’s welcoming relationship with Saudi royalty.
As Trump moved to protect Saudi Arabia’s top leaders from the consequences of the assassination, Democrats and some Republicans in Congress pressed for him to take responsibility for the death of Khashoggi, who was a resident of the United States and worked for an American newspaper. .
As a candidate, Biden echoed that anger against Saudi Arabia. “Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered and dismembered, and I believe in the order of the crown prince,” Biden said in late 2019 to a packed debate stage ahead of the Democratic primary.
He vowed to make the kingdom “pay the price” for the assassination and vowed to end arms sales to Riyadh. “There is little social redemptive value of the current government in Saudi Arabia,” Biden said at the time.
But the fiery rhetoric did not translate into politics once the campaign was stopped and the government started.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that while the group applauded “the commitment of this administration and its promise to put human rights at the top of its agenda,” more needs to be done.
“As we see brutality continue in the Middle East and around the world, we would like to remind this administration that its promise must be kept,” Awad said during Thursday’s event.
The White House National Security Council did not return Al Jazeera’s request for comment in time for publication.
The White House announced Sullivan’s trip to the Middle East late Monday, the same day he met with MBS. The Biden administration has not released any details about the meeting, but Saudi Arabia confirmed the talks, saying they focused on Yemen and other regional issues.
Relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia
Since taking office in January, the Biden administration has Announced plans to end US support for the kingdom’s offensive operations in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been involved in a bombing campaign against the country’s Houthi rebels since 2015.
Amid mounting civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisisThe United States’ involvement in the Yemen war had become increasingly unpopular in Congress. Biden also stopped some gun sales approved by the previous administration and released the Khashoggi report.
But these measures were often accompanied by balancing acts, analysts have noted.
While the United States says it is not involved in Yemen, it has reaffirmed its commitment to the security of the kingdom and fighting the war. activists say Washington is not doing enough to pressure Riyadh to lift the blockade on the war-torn country.
Signs of a normalization of ties between the Biden administration and Saudi officials also emerged earlier this year.
Khalid bin Salman, MBS’s brother who was ambassador to the U.S. At the time of Khashoggi’s assassination, met senior administration officials during a visit to Washington in July. Prince Khalid, who now serves as Under Secretary of Defense, held talks with Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon Chief Lloyd Austin, among others.
Imad Harb, director of research and analysis at the think tank Arab Center Washington DC, said Washington is reducing its involvement in the Middle East, but has not decided to completely abandon the Gulf region, where Saudi Arabia remains a key player. .
“So they are trying to see what works, so to speak,” he told Al Jazeera.
Harb said American politics is going back to its pre-Trump days; that is, verbally supporting human rights but pursuing the interests of the United States. “The conversation is still about rights and democracy and all that, but in reality we have gone back to something that the United States used to do: basically speak as you speak and not walk down the road,” he said.
In this context, DAWN’s Jarrar said that even though it has been three years after Khashoggi’s death, advocates remain committed to bringing justice to the slain journalist, no matter who is in the White House.
“Justice right now looks exactly how justice looked three years ago,” Jarrar said. “We have to hold all the people behind Khashoggi’s murder accountable by using all the tools in our toolbox, including sanctions, lawsuits and criminal proceedings.”