Saudi-American Relations could waiver over Biden's position on Khashoggi

Though early days could be rocky, Saudi analysts say strategic alliance between the two countries over the next four years won't be affected.

 A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL)
A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL)
Questions abound regarding the fate of relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States under newly installed President Joe Biden, whose incoming administration has vowed to uncover the circumstances behind the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Avril Haynes, President Biden's candidate to direct national intelligence, has pledged to declassify the intelligence report on the murder of Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, and to present it to Congress.
"Yes, I will abide by the law," Hines said during a Senate hearing on January 19, in response to a question from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., about whether she would submit a report to Congress, if appointed director of national intelligence.
Salman Al-Ansari, founder and president of the Washington-based Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee, told The Media Line that the Saudi judicial system has said its final word on the Khashoggi case.
“The relations of Riyadh and Washington are too strong to be affected by irrational media populism,” Al-Ansari said.
He said that the issue of the Khashoggi murder is being raised by lobbyists that are hostile to the Saudi kingdom, who don’t care about America's basic interests in the Middle East.
“This is huge: Incoming DNI, Avril Haines, just committed to releasing an unclassified report on the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. For two years, I've been fighting for transparency and accountability for those responsible. We are closer than ever to getting #JusticeForJamal,” Wyden tweeted on Tuesday.
Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage and was not seen again.
Saudi authorities have charged 11 suspects in the killing but have not disclosed their names. Five who went on trial in secret proceedings were sentenced to the death penalty for “ordering and committing the crime.” They were later officially forgiven by Khashoggi’s children, sparing them execution. In addition, two senior officials, Saud al-Qahtani, a key adviser to the Saudi crown prince; and Ahmad Asiri, deputy chief of Saudi intelligence, were fired although they were not part of the team that traveled to Istanbul.
Suleiman al-Ogaily, an analyst, writer and member of the board of directors of the Saudi Society for Political Science, told The Media Line that the promises made by US administrations during election campaigns are not necessarily the policy adopted by the administration when it takes power.
“I believe that the Saudi-American relations are strategic, and they will not be shaken by the divergence of views on some issues,” al-Ogaily said.
He said that Saudi Arabia is not a banana republic subject to international policies inconsistent with its interests and those of its people.
“Riyadh is an important geopolitical and geostrategic force that has its regional and international status. And any rotation in its alliances and international policies will change the face of the region,” al-Ogaily said.
In 2017, President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud signed a series of letters of intent allowing the kingdom to purchase $110 billion in arms immediately from the United States, and another $350 billion in arms purchases over 10 years.
In 2019, Congress asked the director of national intelligence to reveal who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, but he declined to do so, insisting that the information must be kept confidential. Later, Congress approved a legal amendment requiring the Trump administration to provide a full report on those responsible for the crime, but Trump did not respond to the demand.
The United States imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis over the Khashoggi murder, but many congressmen accused the Trump administration of seeking to "protect" Saudi Arabia from accountability.
Robert Mogielnicki, resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told The Media Line that the new Biden Administration is likely to pressure the Saudis to implement additional changes “beyond the goodwill garnered from Gulf reconciliation efforts.”
“Some in the Biden administration and many Democrats in Congress will want to see positive movement on Saudi involvement in Yemen and the human rights record in the kingdom,” he said.
Mogielnicki said that Biden’s foreign policy priority will be Iran. “The Saudis will want to be part of this foreign affairs portfolio, but the level of their involvement is going to depend on how relations with the new administration unfold,” he said.
“Although the early days of Saudi-US ties may be stormy, the Saudis are not in unchartered waters. The Saudis know Joe Biden, and he knows the Saudis. They will ultimately find a way to work together in a number of areas over the next four years,” he added.