White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday defended the Biden administration’s decision to not directly sanction Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the brutal death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying there are “more effective ways” to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the killing.
“We believe there is more effective ways to make sure this doesn’t happen again and to also be able to leave room to work with the Saudis on areas where there is mutual agreement — where there is national interests for the United States. That is what diplomacy looks like,” Psaki told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” when asked why the administration is punishing people under the crown prince but not him.
“That is what complicated global engagement looks like and we have made no secret and been clear we are going to hold them accountable on the global stage and with direct actions,” added Psaki, who called Khashoggi’s 2018 murder a “horrific crime.”
On Friday, the administration released a declassified intelligence report on Khashoggi’s death that said the crown prince, known as MBS, directly approved the killing of the journalist. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced visa restrictions that affected 76 Saudis involved in harassing activists and journalists, but he didn’t announce measures that touch the crown prince despite the fact that President Joe Biden promised to punish senior Saudi leaders while on the campaign trail.
CNN previously reported that two administration officials said sanctioning MBS was never really an option, operating under the belief it would have been “too complicated” and could have jeopardized US military interests in Saudi Arabia. As a result, the administration did not even request the State Department to work up options for how to target MBS with sanctions, one State Department official said.
Biden said at the White House on Saturday that there will be an announcement on Monday “about what we’re going to be doing with Saudi Arabia generally.” He also told Univision on Friday that he was now dealing with the Saudi King and not bin Salman, saying “the rules are changing” in the US’ relationship with the Saudis.
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said Sunday that Biden’s forthcoming announcement is “not a new policy announcement,” but an “elaboration” of Friday’s actions.
“Tomorrow, the State Department is going to lay out a comprehensive package, if you will, walking through all of the actions that the administration took on Friday,” she told MSNBC.
Bedingfield also defended the administration’s decision not to sanction MBS, saying that “historically, the United States has not placed sanctions on leadership of countries that we have diplomatic relations with,” including the leaders of Russia and China.
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told Bash later on “State of the Union” that the administration is “not yet down with recalibrating the relationship between the United States and the Saudi kingdom,” adding that “balancing human rights and our regional interest and security is part of the hard work of diplomacy.”
But Coons would not say Sunday whether he thought the crown prince should be punished directly for Khashoggi’s death, telling Bash instead that he looks forward “to having ongoing conversations with the administration about this issue.”
This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.