The United States on Monday urged Saudi Arabia to disband an elite unit controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that Washington sanctioned over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“We have urged Saudi Arabia to disband this group and then adopt institutional, systemic reforms and controls to ensure that anti-dissident activities and operations cease and cease completely,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said of the Rapid Intervention Force.
He also called on Saudi Arabia to take further action after last month provisionally releasing Loujain al-Hathloul, an advocate for women’s right to drive in the ultra-conservative kingdom who was jailed for nearly three years.
“We are urging Saudi Arabia to take additional steps to lift travel bans on those released to commute sentences and resolve cases such as those of women’s rights activists and others,” Price said.
President Joe Biden on Friday declassified an intelligence report that found that Prince Mohammed ordered the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, a US-based contributor to The Washington Post who was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The report found that seven of the 15 members of the hit squad that flew to Istanbul came from the Rapid Intelligence Force, which it said “exists to defend the crown prince” and “answers only to him.”
The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the force — meaning any US transactions with it will be a crime — but the administration stopped short of personally targeting the powerful crown prince.
Price, following up on Friday’s release of the report, vowed that the Biden administration would put a higher priority on human rights following former president Donald Trump’s chummy relationship with the Saudis.
“We have made crystal clear and will continue to do so that the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi 28 months ago remains unacceptable conduct,” Price said.
He said the United States would maintain its longstanding alliance with the oil-producing kingdom but said “we can only address these many important challenges in a partnership with Saudi Arabia that respects America’s values.”
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