WASHINGTON: A declassified version of a US intelligence report, expected to be released soon, has observed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, four US officials familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
The officials said the report, for which the CIA was the main contributor, assessed that the crown prince approved and likely ordered the murder of Khashoggi, whose Washington Post column had criticised the crown prince’s policies.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat who succeeded the Republican Donald Trump five weeks ago, told reporters on Wednesday he had read the report and expected to speak soon by phone with Saudi Arabian King Salman, 85, father of the crown prince. The report’s release is part of President Biden’s policy to realign ties with Riyadh after years of giving the Arab ally and major oil producer a pass on its human rights record and its intervention in Yemen’s civil war.
Biden is working to restore the relationship with Riyadh to traditional lines after four years of cozier ties under Trump.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday Joe Biden would only communicate with the Saudi king and said the declassified Khashoggi report was being readied for release soon.
While Biden restricts his contacts to the king, others in the administration are talking to Saudi officials at various levels.
“We have been in touch with Saudi officials at numerous levels in the early weeks of this administration,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
The 59-year old Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2, 2018, and killed by a team of operatives with alleged links to the crown prince. They then dismembered his body. His remains have never been found.
Riyadh eventually admitted that Khashoggi was killed in a rogue extradition operation gone wrong, but it denied any involvement by the crown prince. Five men given the death penalty for the murder had their sentences commuted to 20 years in jail after being forgiven by Khashoggi’s family.
In 2019, a UN human rights investigator, Agnes Callamard, accused Saudi Arabia of a “deliberate, premeditated execution” of Khashoggi and called for investigation.