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Former CIA Director John Brennan says Biden should not ‘turn a blind eye’ to Mohammed bin Salman 

Former CIA Director John Brennan said President Joe Biden should not ‘turn a blind eye’ to actions of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after report blamed him for murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Brennan, who served as the CIA chief from March 2013 to January 2017, called on Biden to prevent bin Salman from ever entering United States while still maintaining a ‘longstanding strategic partnership’ with Saudi Arabia.

‘The United States and Saudi Arabia have had a longstanding strategic partnership that I think is very important to both countries,’ Brennan said in an interview with MSNBC’s Joshua Johnson.

‘It runs the gamut from energy to security, counter-terrorism and economics. So therefore, I do think it’s important we maintain the strength of that relationship.’

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Former CIA Director John Brennan, pictured, said President Joe Biden should not ‘turn a blind eye’ to actions committed by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince

A recent report found Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, pictured, had approved the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018

A recent report found Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, pictured, had approved the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018

Brennan, who served as the CIA chief from March 2013 to January 2017, called on Biden, pictured, to prevent bin Salman from ever entering United States

Brennan, who served as the CIA chief from March 2013 to January 2017, called on Biden, pictured, to prevent bin Salman from ever entering United States

However, Brennan said the Biden administration should not ‘turn a blind eye at all to things Saudi leaders do, including Mohammed bin Salman.’

Brennan said Biden has to send a ‘clear signal’ to bin Salman that ‘these types of activities, oppressing, suppressing and ruthlessly killing any Saudi activist who dare to speak out against him is something that shouldn’t be tolerated.’

‘I do think we can distinguish between the strategic partnership between the two countries and the actions of one man,’ Brennan said.

He continued: ‘That’s why I’m really hoping that the Biden administration is going to hold him accountable, saying that he is not going to come to the United States for any official or personal visits.’

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi pictured in 2012. He was last seen on October 2, 2018

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi pictured in 2012. He was last seen on October 2, 2018

Brennan added that the Biden administration officials should not hold any senior level meetings with bin Salman.

‘That has to be made very clear, not just to Mohammed bin Salman and the rest of the Saudi government, but also to other governments throughout the region,’ Brennan said.

‘They cannot get away with this because the Biden administration is going to hold them to certain standards in terms of human rights and values.’

Biden said on Saturday that his administration would make an announcement on Saudi Arabia on Monday.

It follows the U.S. intelligence report that found bin Salman had approved the killing of Khashoggi.

The Biden administration has faced some criticism that the president should have been tougher on the crown prince, who was not sanctioned despite being blamed for approving Khashoggi’s murder.

Asked about punishing the crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, who is also known as MBS, Biden said: ‘There will be an announcement on Monday as to what we are going to be doing with Saudi Arabia generally.’

Biden did not provide details.

President Joe Biden said on Saturday that his administration would make an announcement on Saudi Arabia on Monday. He is pictured stepping off Air Force One on Saturday

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote opinion columns for the Washington Post critical of MBS policies, was killed and dismembered by a team of operatives linked to the prince in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

The intelligence report released Friday, which had been withheld after being completed under Trump, said it was ‘highly unlikely’ that Khashoggi’s murder could have taken place without his green light.

The report points to the crown prince’s ‘absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations,’ where his authority is already well established.

The killing of Khashoggi also fits a pattern of ‘the crown prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad’, it added.

But Saudi observers dismissed the highly anticipated report, with Ali Shihabi, a government adviser close to the kingdom’s royal court, saying the ‘thin’ assessment lacked a ‘smoking gun’.

The Saudi government, which has denied any involvement by the crown prince, on Friday issued a statement rejecting the U.S. report’s findings and repeating its previous statements that Khashoggi’s killing was a heinous crime by a rogue group.

Soon after the report was made public, the Arabic hashtag ‘We are all MBS’ began trending on Twitter, with pro-government cyber armies tweeting in support of the Saudi heir apparent.

The Saudi leadership is ‘untouchable’, screamed a front-page headline in the pro-government Okaz newspaper, which also denounced the report.

On Friday, Biden had said in an interview with Univision that he would hold Saudi Arabia ‘accountable’, adding that he had spoken with King Salman about the decision.

‘I spoke yesterday with the king … Made it clear to him that the rules are changing and we’re going to be announcing significant changes today and on Monday. We are going to hold them accountable for human rights abuses,’ Biden said.

‘If they want to deal with us, they will have to deal with it in a way that the human rights abuses are dealt with,’ he continued.

The president added that once he got his hands on the report, he worked to ‘immediately’ read and release it.

‘It is outrageous what happened,’ he asserted.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman waves on Saturday just days after the report was made public in the U.S. claiming he had authorized Jamal Khashoggi's killing

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman waves on Saturday just days after the report was made public in the U.S. claiming he had authorized Jamal Khashoggi’s killing

Despite the unequivocal conclusions of the assessment, the administration stopped short of imposing any diplomatic or economic sanctions on the heir to the throne of the influential ally.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained that Biden wants to ‘recalibrate’ but not ‘rupture’ its relations with Riyadh, a longstanding Middle East partner.

‘This is not the Saudi smack-down that many expected,’ said Varsha Koduvayur, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish Washington think-tank.

It indicates ‘Biden’s overall Saudi stance: put values at the heart of US foreign policy, emphasize human rights, and reverse the transactional approach of last four years (under Trump) — while preserving the relationship,’ Koduvayur added.

Among the punitive steps the United States took on Friday was the imposition of a visa ban on some Saudis believed involved in the Khashoggi killing and sanctions on others, including a former deputy intelligence chief, which would freeze their U.S. assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.

Biden has now said he will deal with Saudi Arabia on Monday. He is pictured above with First Lady Jill Biden as they walk to board Marine One on Saturday afternoon

Biden has now said he will deal with Saudi Arabia on Monday. He is pictured above with First Lady Jill Biden as they walk to board Marine One on Saturday afternoon

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden exit Marine One as they walk to board Air Force One on Saturday. Biden said he read and released the Saudi report as soon as he could

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden exit Marine One as they walk to board Air Force One on Saturday. Biden said he read and released the Saudi report as soon as he could 

Blinken released a statement stating the world was ‘horrified’ by Khashoggi’s killing and announcing a new ‘Khashoggi ban’ visa restriction on people linked to ‘counter-dissident activities.’

He said the government has acted against 76 individuals but did not identify Khashoggi.

The public censure of the prince along with US sanctions marks a sharp departure from the policy of former president Trump, who sought to shield the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

Biden had pledged during his campaign to make the kingdom a ‘pariah’ after it got a free pass under Trump, but observers say he is instead adopting a middle path.

While scrutinizing human rights, his new administration is working to preserve a valuable security partnership as it moves to reboot nuclear talks with Riyadh’s arch-enemy Tehran.

Biden also needs to deal with the top crude producer on the highly fraught issues of energy, counterterrorism, and efforts to end the conflict in Yemen.

‘The Biden foreign policy team is comprised of seasoned experts who are not so naive as to think that they can achieve their goals in the Middle East without dealing with a Saudi state that still anchors, though in a less totalizing way, both oil and security in the Gulf,’ said Kristin Diwan of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

‘For this reason, they have ruled out the sanctioning of Mohammed bin Salman, preserving space to deal with the Saudi state and its top leadership.’

The office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi that identified the crown prince approved the killing

The office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi that identified the crown prince approved the killing

Recent official statements from Washington have called Saudi Arabia a ‘security partner’, instead of what the Trump administration highlighted as an ‘ally’ and a key buyer of US military hardware.

In an apparent snub earlier this week, Biden insisted on making his first Saudi phone call to 85-year-old King Salman, even as Saudi pro-government supporters insisted that his son, Prince Mohammed, was the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler.

‘Washington realizes that MBS could go on to rule Saudi Arabia for the next half century, so it cannot afford to completely alienate him,’ a Western diplomat told AFP.

‘But it is also making clear that it will no longer give him a free pass.’

The crown prince has denied involvement in the October 2018 murder of Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident.

MBS did accept responsibility for the assassination as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. And Riyadh eventually admitted that Khashoggi was killed in a ‘rogue’ extradition operation gone wrong.

Five men were given the death penalty for the journalist’s murder but had their sentences commuted to 20 years in prison after being forgiven by Khashoggi’s family.

Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia in September 2017 to live in self-imposed exile.

He was writing columns critical of the Saudi government – including of both King Salman and MBS – for The Washington Post when he was killed.

In October 2018, Khashoggi visited the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, to pick up the paperwork required for his marriage to a Turkish citizen. He was never seen leaving.

This video grab made on October 10, 2018 from CCTV footage obtained from Turkish news agency DHA shows Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (R) arriving at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. He vanished the same day after entering the consulate to obtain official documents ahead of his marriage to his Turkish fiancee

This video grab made on October 10, 2018 from CCTV footage obtained from Turkish news agency DHA shows Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (R) arriving at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. He vanished the same day after entering the consulate to obtain official documents ahead of his marriage to his Turkish fiancee

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