US lawmakers demand clarification on 'Khashoggi Ban' as Saudi prince visits

A demonstrator wearing a mask of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a protest outside the Saudi Arabia consulate where the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was last seen in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 25, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Two US lawmakers are pressing the administration of President Joe Biden to explain why it granted a visa to Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman and whether he was included on its list of Saudis banned from entering the United States over the 2018 murder of prominent Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Congressmen Tom Malinowski and Brian Fitzpatrick sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday as Prince Khalid, the younger brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), is on a visit to Washington this week. He met with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday.

The prince served as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington when Khashoggi, also a US resident, was murdered in 2018.

“According to public reports, Prince Khalid met with a range of senior US government officials, seemingly undermining the Administration’s February 2021 statements indicating that you would seek to recalibrate the US-Saudi relationship by engaging your official counterparts,” the letter said.

“We seek to understand the rationale for Prince Khalid’s multiple visits and whether the Department of State reviewed allegations regarding his alleged role in targeting Saudi dissidents, consistent with the Administration’s Khashoggi Visa Ban,” it added.

Prince Khalid, who also traveled to Washington last July, is the highest-profile Saudi to visit the US capital since the Biden administration released a long-awaited intelligence report concluding that MBS is linked to the case of Khashoggi’s murder.

Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul back in October 2018 raised a global outcry and put pressure on the Saudi crown prince.

US intelligence agencies admitted last year that Mohammed bin Salman ordered a team of Saudi operatives to kill Khashoggi. In February, the Biden administration confirmed the crown prince had masterminded the brutal murder.

Riyadh continues to reject this, claiming that the journalist was killed in a rogue operation.

Although the declassified intelligence report on Khashoggi's murder excludes Prince Khalid, the two representatives said in their letter that he personally told “Khashoggi by telephone that it would be safe to visit the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.”

Khashoggi was murdered shortly after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document stating that he was divorced so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée.

“Additionally, then Ambassador Khalid bin Salman was posted to Washington while the Saudi government engaged in a documented campaign of intimidation, including surveilling, harassing, and threatening Saudi dissidents in the United States,” said the letter.

As part of efforts to hold Riyadh to account, Blinken unveiled the Khashoggi Ban, a new visa policy that would allow Washington to target “individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.”

The ban targets 76 unnamed Saudi nationals with visa restrictions for threatening the slain journalist or other dissidents.

Malinowski and Fitzpatrick also in their letter asked if there had been any changes or exceptions made to the visa restrictions imposed on the 76 individuals. 

Last month, a Turkish court halted the trial of Saudi suspects over the gruesome killing of Khashoggi and approved transfer of the case to Saudi Arabia, a decision that has drawn condemnation from rights groups.

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