'We don’t punish state leaders': Biden defends inaction on MBS in Khashoggi murder

US President Joe Biden speaks during a virtual meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on March 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

US President Joe Biden has defended his decision not to impose any sanctions on Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in the murder of his critic, US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in a move that rights groups say signals “permanent impunity” for the royal leaders.

US intelligence agencies acknowledged in a report last month that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) authorized the team of Saudi security and intelligence officials that killed Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, back in October, 2018.

Biden, however, said he was not going to hold the prince accountable for the murder.

“We held accountable all the people in that organization – but not the crown prince, because we have never, that I’m aware of … when we have an alliance with a country, gone to the acting head of state and punished that person and ostracized him,” Biden told ABC News on Wednesday.

The US president, however, claimed that he had “made it clear” to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman “that things were going to change.”

The king, who is in his mid-80s, has allowed his son broad governing authority.

During his campaign, Biden had promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state for the Khashoggi killing and other abuses.

The president imposed sanctions on several Saudi individuals involved in the murder but refused to punish the crown prince.

The decision drew strong criticism from rights groups and some news organizations that warned the kingdom’s critics about looming threats against them.

Exiled Saudi activists say Biden's decision to let bin Salman off the hook has put them in greater danger.

The release of the report into Khashoggi’s murder “is welcomed transparency, but the lack of direct accountability will give MBS permanent impunity, rendering him more dangerous,” said Khalid Aljabri, the son of a former senior Saudi official who is living in exile in Canada.

“He is probably thinking he can get away with future assassinations as long as he doesn’t leave fingerprints,” he added.

Khashoggi was murderd on October 2, 2018, after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve papers that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancée.

Recording and other evidence gathered by Turkish authorities revealed how a team of Saudi agents subdued, killed and then dismembered the journalist inside the diplomatic mission.

Saudi Arabia initially issued conflicting stories about Khashoggi’s disappearance, but eventually said that he was killed in a “rogue” operation.

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