Middle East & Arab World: Saudi Arabia 2021-

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Saudi Arabia

Inside the Biden team’s deliberations over punishing the Saudi crown prince
… the problem of what sanctions could be placed on Mohammed remained. Psaki drew criticism for telling reporters that the United States does not sanction the heads of government with whom it has diplomatic relations.
Sanctioning the leader of another country was rarely done, and never with the leader of a national security partner. Although the crown prince does not have a U.S. visa, and U.S. officials indicated he would not be getting one any time soon, any such decision would be infinitely more problematic once he became king, which he is virtually certain to be with the passing of his 85-year-old father.
And the crown prince was unique. Banning the grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia would mean declaring what a senior administration official called a “hostile” relationship with the kingdom, the titular protector of the holiest sites in the Muslim world.
Even if that were tolerable, in a dangerous region where the United States seeks Saudi leadership and cooperation, untangling Mohammed’s assets for freezing from those of the kingdom was seen as virtually impossible.

26-27 February
Richard Haass: A Realist Reset for US-Saudi Relations
President Joe Biden’s administration appears determined to separate America’s relationship with the Kingdom from the relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But this separation will likely prove impossible to sustain.
The US is not in a position to prevent his ascension to the throne when his father dies. Any attempt to do so would almost certainly fail, in the process triggering a nationalist backlash, causing domestic instability, or both. And the fact is that the US has many reasons to maintain a working relationship with an individual who will likely lead for decades a country that is critical to setting world energy prices, containing Iran, frustrating terrorism, and, if it elects to do so, promoting Middle East peace.
… The promise of meetings with Biden administration officials should be traded for a firm commitment that he will never again target a political opponent in this way and that he will release imprisoned human rights advocates.Bringing the Saudis into diplomacy might preserve the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize relations with Israel only when Israel agreed not to annex occupied Palestinian territory for at least three years. MBS reportedly is ready to build bridges to Israel, but his father is not, and much of the Saudi population might resist. Even an Israeli government committed to expanding Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories might find it difficult to resist curbing them in exchange for peace and diplomatic ties with the Kingdom.
US intel: Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi killing
(The Hill) Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, according to a declassified report released by the Biden administration on Friday.
The report, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), said the crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto leader, “approved an operation … to capture or kill” Khashoggi.
“We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decisionmaking in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” the report said.
President Biden Lets a Saudi Murderer Walk
The crown prince killed my friend Jamal Khashoggi, and we do next to nothing.
By Nicholas Kristof
Instead of imposing sanctions on M.B.S., Biden appears ready to let the murderer walk. The weak message to other thuggish dictators considering such a murder is: Please don’t do it, but we’ll still work with you if we have to. The message to Saudi Arabia is: Go ahead and elevate M.B.S. to be the country’s next king if you must.
All this is a betrayal of my friend Jamal Khashoggi and of his values and ours. But even through the lens of realpolitik it’s a missed opportunity to help Saudi Arabia understand that its own interest lies in finding a new crown prince who isn’t reckless and doesn’t kill and dismember journalists.
Crushing Dissent: The Saudi Kill Team Behind Khashoggi’s Death
(NYT) Seven Saudis involved in the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi belonged to an elite unit charged with protecting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a declassified report on the assassination released on Friday. The New York Times has linked the group to a brutal campaign to crush dissent inside the kingdom and abroad, citing interviews with American officials who have read classified intelligence reports about the campaign..

24 January
Crown prince announces new 5-year strategy for Kingdom’s economy
(Arab News) The Public Investment Fund (PIF) will pump at least $40 billion a year into the local economy, double its assets to $1.07 trillion, contribute U$320 billion to non-oil GDP and create 1.8 million jobs by 2025, said the crown prince, the fund’s chairman.
The 2021-2025 strategy will focus on launching new sectors, empowering the private sector, developing the PIF’s portfolio, achieving effective long-term investments, supporting the localization of sectors and building strategic economic partnerships.
The Biden administration’s Saudi problem
(WaPo) As the Biden administration seeks a better pathway in the U.S.-Saudi relationship, one obstacle is the case of two young Saudis imprisoned by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to pressure their father, a former top Saudi intelligence official.
Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, has been trying to force the former intelligence official, Saad Aljabri, to return to the kingdom from Toronto, where he has been living in exile. Two of his children, Omar and Sarah Aljabri, 22 and 20, were arrested and imprisoned last March. Saad Aljabri’s eldest son Khalid, a cardiologist who lives with his father in exile, said they are being used as “political hostages” to secure the former official’s return.
The sensitive case now falls to the Biden administration, which wants to maintain the U.S. security partnership with Saudi Arabia but also seeks a “reassessment” that puts greater emphasis on human rights issues.
One reason U.S. officials, through two administrations, have been so concerned about the case is that Saad Aljabri was a key partner for the CIA in its counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaeda. A July 2020 letter to Trump from a bipartisan group of four senators noted that Aljabri “has been credited by former CIA officials for saving thousands of American lives by discovering and preventing terrorist plots.”

7 January
Trump and Kushner are claiming credit for solving a conflict they helped inflame
Mohamad Bazzi, journalism professor at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday
(WaPo Opinion) On Tuesday, Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law, attended a summit meeting in Saudi Arabia with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The leaders signed an agreement to restore full diplomatic relations with Qatar and end a three-year blockade, a rift that had divided the Arab world and pit U.S. allies against one another.
Kushner was taking a victory lap, having negotiated for months to help resolve the conflict. But the photo-op obscured a simple fact: Kushner and Trump played a major role in instigating the 2017 crisis that led to the intra-Arab rift and Qatar’s regional isolation.
Soon after the Trump administration took office, Kushner cultivated a friendship with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, who was then the deputy crown prince but had ambitions of securing de facto control of the kingdom. The two “young princes,” both in their 30s, bonded over their desire to remake the Middle East and prove themselves on the world stage. Trump and Kushner, both used to personality-driven business deals, offered their unwavering support to MBS for the promise of massive weapons contracts, other investments in the United States and stable oil prices.

4 January
Saudi Arabia set to end three-year feud by reopening borders with Qatar
Land border has been closed since mid-2017 after Qatar was accused of supporting Islamist groups
(The Guardian) Qatar’s only land border has been mostly closed since mid-2017, when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain launched a blockade against the tiny Gulf state, accusing it of supporting Islamist groups in the region and of having warm ties with Iran. Kuwait has been mediating between Qatar and the four Arab states.

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