Analysis: U.S. seeks to put Saudi crown prince in his place – for now

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have been spared direct punishment after a U.S. intelligence report implicated him in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but he has not emerged unscathed.

The declassified report, based on CIA intelligence, concludes that the prince approved an operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

President Joe Biden’s decision to publish a report that his predecessor Donald Trump had set aside brings with it a broad refocusing of Washington’s stance on dealing with the kingdom, on its human rights record, and on its lucrative arms purchases.

By pointing the finger so publicly at Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s ruler in practice but not in name, Washington has also made it harder for its Western allies to deal with him directly.

But while it may want to cut the 35-year-old crown prince down to size, Washington knows it can ill afford to break entirely with its oldest Arab ally and the main counterweight to Iran in the region.

“What we’ve done … is not to rupture the relationship but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters.

Elisabeth Kendall, senior research fellow in Arabic & Islamic studies at the University of Oxford, said the report was “supremely embarrassing for Saudi Arabia” and “places other world leaders in the awkward position of having to decide if, when and how to continue dealing with the crown prince”.

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