Jamal Khashoggi: Washington blames Saudi prince MBS for murder and publishes the CIA report
A phone call and the publication of a report hitherto kept secret, in two moves the White House closes the era of Mohammed Bin Salman’s triumphs and inaugurates months that are promising to be very thorny for the Saudi crown prince. The phone call is the one with which, five weeks after taking office, Joe Biden solicits Riad, choosing to speak not with MBS, the privileged interlocutor of the Trump era, but with his father, 85-year-old King Salman. “He’s the only counterpart”, as White House spokesperson Jen Psaki points out, despite the elderly sovereign having long ago abdicated the daily management of the kingdom.
The call comes on the eve of the release of the CIA report on the journalist Jamal Khashoggi death, expected for the next few hours.A report that, according to forecasts known for some time but never directly confirmed,accuses the crown prince as the instigator of the assassination in Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 of the dissident journalist Khashoggi. A report that Donald Trump had always kept confidential and that now the director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, has pledged to make public, putting an end to the privileges the prince has enjoyed in the last four years. Confirmed by Trump himself, ready to declare to the journalist Bob Woodward: “I saved his skin.” And from his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who had created a personal relationship with MBS via WhatsApp, far from traditional diplomatic channels.
The prince’s public position was aggravated by the publication yesterday on CNN of Canadian judicial documents in which MBS is placed in direct connection with the area company that owns the private jet used by the commando that killed Khashoggi. The lawsuit is the one filed against MBS by Saad al Jabri, former Saudi head of counterterrorism in exile in Canada, whose teenage children have been kept stranded in Saudi Arabia since the man refused to return home for fear of MBS.
Some of the possible US requests are centred on the destinies of al Jabri and his former head, former interior minister, and former crown prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, for 15 years a reference man for Washington now under house arrest by order of MBS. Biden could demand the release of the children of the first and the release of the second: the new American leader already in the electoral campaign had threatened to treat the Saudis as “pariah”, due to too many human rights violations.
With the withdrawal of support in the war in Yemen and the halt to arms sales, the new Biden administration had already made it clear that the impunity guaranteed by Trump would not be tolerated anymore. MBS knows this and has been trying for months to change course. He has mended with Qatar after a diplomatic tear that lasted three years. He freed – but kept her under investigation and banned her from traveling – Loujain al Hathloul, the kingdom’s most famous women rights activist. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the possible extension of the Abrahamic agreements to the Saudi kingdom. But it will not be enough. Observers expect that Washington will not oppose the prince’ rise, as the call he received from the American Defense Minister General Lloyd Austin shows, but to Riyadh, they are asking for a decisive change.