West News Wire: This month marks the third anniversary of the murder of U.S.-resident Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. It’s long past time to hold those responsible for his assassination accountable, and to stand up for other victims of Saudi crimes. Based on his statements as a candidate and his early actions, it appeared that Joe Biden would do just that. But so far the president’s rhetoric has not been matched by his actions.

As a candidate for president, Joe Biden denounced the Saudi government as a “pariah” and pledged to change the U.S.-Saudi relationship accordingly. He used his first foreign policy speech to announce an end to U.S. support for “offensive operations” in the Saudi/UAE-led war in Yemen, along with “relevant arms sales.” This was followed by a decision to release U.S. intelligence findings that confirmed that Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Mohammed Bin Salman, was aware of and directed the plot to kill Jamal Khashoggi.

These early, promising signs have faded as the administration has failed to meaningfully follow through. It paused two bomb sales to Saudi Arabia, but billions in U.S. arms sales in the pipeline have been allowed to proceed, and just last month the administration proposed a $500 million maintenance agreement that will enable Saudi Arabia to carry forward its brutal war in Yemen, including a blockade that has put millions at risk of starvation.

The administration also let de facto Saudi leader Mohammed Bin Salman off the hook for his role in the Khashoggi murder, even as lower level operatives involved in the affair were sanctioned. In July, administration officials rolled out the red carpet for Saudi deputy defense minister Khalid Bin Salman – the brother of the Saudi crown prince — during his trip to Washington. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reportedly brought up the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in his recent meetings with Mohammed Bin Salman and other top Saudi officials, but there is no indication that he announced additional consequences for the Saudi role in the journalist’s death.

None of the above suggests that the Biden administration is prepared to hold Saudi Arabia fully accountable for its murder of Jamal Khashoggi or its other crimes at home and abroad. But there’s still time to change course.

First, the administration should follow the lead of Congressional leaders like Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who sponsored a successful amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would cut off arms sales, maintenance and spare parts to the Saudi military in response to its actions in Yemen. As Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution has pointed out, doing so would ground the Saudi Air Force in short order and send an unmistakable message to Mohammed Bin Salman that his regime’s conduct in Yemen is unacceptable.

Read More
Biden's upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia denounced by Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee

The Biden team should also adopt the terms of the Saudi Dissidents Protection Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). The bill, which passed the House in April but has so far languished in the Senate, calls for a cutoff of arms sales to Saudi police, internal security, and intelligence services if the regime intimidates or harms Saudi dissidents abroad, tortures its own citizens, or engages in a series of other repressive measures. Following the bill’s proposed approach would partially make up for the administration’s failure to punish Mohammed Bin Salman, as well as providing incentives for his regime to refrain from similar actions in the future.

The need to alter the U.S.-Saudi relationship could not be more urgent. Riyadh continues to use its Air Force and Navy to enforce a blockade that has reduced fuel deliveries to Yemen to a tiny fraction of its needs, with harsh humanitarian consequences. In March of this year UN World Food Programme director David Beasley stated that if impediments to the supply of food aid are not lifted, up to 400,000 children are at risk of death by starvation or disease. The Saudis have also restricted flights in and out of the Sanaa airport, which according to CARE and the Norwegian Refugee Council has left thousands of individuals in need of urgent medical care stranded.

The Biden administration’s special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking has denounced efforts to restrict the entry of supplies into Yemen, but the administration has failed to use all of the leverage at its disposal to rectify the situation, most notably a cut off of arms other military support as called for in Rep. Khanna’s recent amendment.

There’s still time for the Biden administration to uphold its promises to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the Khashoggi killing and its reprehensible behavior in Yemen. It should act promptly in the interests of ending the suffering of the Yemeni people and promoting an inclusive peace agreement to end the Yemen war.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here