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White House Report: Saudi Crown Prince Approved Journalist Jamal Khashoggi's Killing


It's just two pages long, but the reverberations are already being felt. We're talking about a summary report from U.S. intelligence officials out today on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The report says that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder.


Khashoggi was 59 years old at the time, a Saudi citizen living in northern Virginia and writing columns for The Washington Post, columns that were often critical of the Saudi monarchy. He was killed during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018. His body was dismembered, and his remains have never been found. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is covering the story. Hi, Greg.


SHAPIRO: So tell us more about the significance of this summary and its release today.

MYRE: Well, really hard to think of a precedent here, where the U.S. government is accusing the effective leader of a very important ally of approving an operation for a very brutal killing of this prominent journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was living in the U.S. at that time. Really can't think of an immediate precedent of this. This is clearly going to harm relations, which were already quite turbulent. We don't know how much, but it could be long-lasting because Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, is just 35 years old. His father, King Salman, is 85 and not in good health. So the expectation is that the crown prince will take over in the not-too-distant future and could be in power for decades.

SHAPIRO: Well, the conclusions are not surprising. Seeing it in black and white from the U.S. intelligence community is really something. What are intelligence officials saying today?

MYRE: So as it happens, as this report was coming out this afternoon, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly and I were sitting down with the new director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, for her first interview since taking over the job as the head of the intelligence community last month. And here's what she had to say to us.

AVRIL HAINES: The fact that the crown prince approved that operation - and, you know, we rather have assessed that - is also likely not to be a surprise. And, you know, I am sure it is not going to make things easier, but I think it's also fair to say that it is not unexpected.

MYRE: So U.S. intelligence reached this conclusion pretty quickly. Just two months after the killing in December of 2018, the then-CIA director, Gina Haspel, went to Turkey to get briefed on this. She came back, spoke to the senators. They came right out of that meeting and said it was very clear, saying things like, if this had been a trial, he would have been convicted in 30 minutes, talking about the crown prince. But President Trump was very protective of the Saudis. He even ignored legislation calling for this unclassified version to be released. It's no accident, no coincidence, that it's coming out now with a new administration in place.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, Biden has spoken so differently about the Saudis from Trump. How do the words extend into actions?

MYRE: Well, you know, during the campaign, he called the Saudis a pariah, criticized their human rights record, harassment of dissidents. And in just over the month that he's been in office, we have seen some actual actions. He canceled offensive weapons that had been sold to the Saudis under President Trump. He's also calling for a diplomatic solution to the war in Yemen. He's appointed somebody to deal with that portfolio. So it seems like there is follow-through. Still early days, but we've seen that. Also, Secretary of State Antony Blinken talked about a Khashoggi ban and punishing some of the people beyond Mohammed bin Salman who are cited in this report.

SHAPIRO: The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have had this long relationship going back years and weathered tough times before, like 9/11. So what does this mean for the future of the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia?

MYRE: Well, they're going to have to keep working together, so there's not going to be a full rupture. But it's going to be rocky. It's a relationship based on interest much more than values. The U.S. buys Saudi oil. The Saudis buy American weapons. They fight counterterrorism together. Both countries are staunch opponents of Iran. These things aren't going to entirely go away, but it will affect the closeness of the relationship and, again, possibly for the long term, especially if Mohammed bin Salman is in power for many years to come.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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