US says immunity for crown prince has ‘nothing to do’ with Saudi ties

US says immunity for crown prince has ‘nothing to do’ with Saudi ties


The White House on Friday denied it was trying to smooth over frayed bilateral ties with Riyadh when a recent US government request granted immunity to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“This legal decision has absolutely nothing to do with the matter itself,” said White House national security spokesman John Kirby, referring to Khashoggi’s fiancé Hatice Cengiz’s civil lawsuit against the crown prince and other Saudis.

Furthermore, the determination has “absolutely nothing to do with bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia, which, as you know, are strained right now,” he said, citing Riyadh’s recent support for the OPEC cartel’s slump in oil production, which angered Washington .

President Joe Biden “was very, very clear, very vocal about the brutal and barbaric murder of Mr. Khashoggi,” Kirby said.

The White House reaction comes as Amnesty International denounced the Biden administration for granting the prince immunity, calling the act a “profound treason.”

The rights group also criticized Riyadh for appointing Prince Mohammed as prime minister in a royal decree, leading to suggestions that he was trying to avoid exposure in the civil lawsuit filed by Khashoggi’s fiancée.

“The US government should hang its head in shame. This is nothing more than a disgusting, total, deep betrayal,” Amnesty Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said in a statement.

“First the evidence of the Crown Prince’s involvement in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi was disregarded by President Trump, then the fist by President Biden – everything points to shady dealings throughout.”

Callamard added it was “more than cynical” for the Saudi government to extend Prince Salman’s immunity by proclaiming him prime minister.

“It is disappointing that the US government has implemented this legal ploy,” she said, adding that it “sends a deplorable message that those in power … can stand above the law with complete impunity.”

The editor of the Washington Post, on which Khashoggi had contributed, also criticized the decision.

Fred Ryan, the newspaper’s editor and CEO, said in a statement that Biden “is granting a license to kill to one of the world’s most egregious human rights abusers responsible for the cold-blooded murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist.”

But White House spokesman Kirby said Biden has been “working to hold the regime accountable.”

Kirby also referred to Biden’s order to review the US-Saudi Arabia relationship, which has been extremely close for decades.

Biden wants to ensure that the relationship “serves the interests of our national security and the American people,” he said.

The assassination of Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic, four years ago at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul temporarily made Prince Mohammed a pariah in the West.

His attorneys previously argued that he was entitled to the kind of immunity US courts grant to foreign heads of state and other high-ranking officials.

The US government had until Thursday to comment on the matter, if it was going to comment at all. His recommendation is not binding on the court.

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