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Khashoggi in the US and Saudi Arabia Relations


The assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2, 2018, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, turned into a serious test of the strength of relations between Riyadh and the US. It would seem that the purely intra-Saudi incident was a shock to the western partners of the kingdom. Sharp and large-scale protests in public and political circles condemning the alleged involvement of senior officials in this crime caused tension in the relations of the Western countries with the kingdom. The joint reaction of these countries was limited to the demand for a thorough investigation of the murder. The question of the possible imposition of sanctions against Riyadh revealed big differences within the Euro-Atlantic community. Once again, the value component of America’s foreign policy came into conflict with the practical interests and geopolitical calculations of these states. Donald Trump’s response to downplaying the involvement of the Crowned Prince went against values that the US upholds, such as freedom and democracy, and it will heavily damage the nation’s interests in the long run.

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The logos can be illustrated through the position of the US president, which is indicative in this regard. Initially, outraged by what happened in Istanbul, D. Trump noticeably tried to minimize the significance of the murder of a journalist for US-Saudi relations, declaring that the explanations of Riyadh are credible. However, under pressure from Congress and public opinion, he clearly decided not to risk losing the confidence of potential voters on the eve of the upcoming midterm elections and sent his envoys, Secretary of State M. Pompeo to Riyadh and Ankara, and then CIA Director Gina Haspel, to Ankara to clarify the situation (Washington Post). Thus, Trump sought to demonstrate the impartiality of his approach to Riyadh and even threatened to impose sanctions if the facts of the involvement of the Saudi authorities in the murder in Istanbul were confirmed. However, at the same time, he a priori removed arms contracts with the Saudis from sanctions, based on the fact that they employ more than a million Americans. On the whole, Trump’s line boils down to a combination of condemning the murder in Istanbul with a desire to present leaders as not directly involved in this crime. Therefore, no significant influence was put on holding Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) accountable for the brutal murder of the journalist.

The overall lack of responsiveness from Trump was a major influence on imposing ramifications and consequences for MBS’s actions. The reaction of the United States and the European Union to the killing in Istanbul of a Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi provoked unprecedented tension in relations between the Western community and Saudi Arabia. It is largely due to the unwillingness of the US governments and leading EU countries to impose sanctions on government agencies in countries that may trigger retaliatory actions by Riyadh in the field of its trade and economic ties with the Euro-Atlantic countries. At the same time, the political establishment in the West was not able to ignore the widespread indignation in their countries that happened in Istanbul.

The main reason for Trump’s downplaying of the MBS’s involvement is the fact that the US and Saudi relations are important for both the economy and geopolitics. The United States needs Saudi’s help to influence Iran. In addition, Saudi can be considered as one of the major high-demand markets for weaponry and military machinery. In the case of the US, confirming that MBS is responsible for the journalist’s assassination, Saudi Arabia will focus its demand on Russia and China to acquire the necessary weaponry.


The pathos is manifested in the fact that the ambitious prince is not used to reckoning with other people’s opinions and many consider the Kingdom’s transformation program amateurish. It is important to pay attention to the fact that it does not have an expert basis, but the prince shows unshakable confidence in its implementation. There are several controversial events in the Kingdom such as the execution of Shiite religious authority Nimr al-Nimr, who opposed confessional discrimination and harassment of Shiites in Saudi Arabia, the participation of Saudi Arabia in hostilities in Yemen, as well as the killing of opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi (“Jamal Khashoggi: All”). These are the Western media considered the initiative of the prince. The fact is that the journalist fell into disfavor after he moved to the United States in 2017 and, as a columnist for The Washington Post, began to criticize the country’s policy that the prince did not like (Washington Post). These incidents are indications of MBS’s ruthless nature regarding any form of opposition. The sole reason why the Kingdom is allowed to remain as such is due to their opening to key values of the 21st century, which were primarily imposed by the US, such as worldwide democratization and liberation. However, Trump’s support of MBS is major dismissal of the American direction in world politics.

It is important to indicate that the president’s denial of MBS’s involvement heavily damages the US reputation in regards to its international relations, where the nation is seen as being hypocritical. Such an action might be beneficial for the US in the short term, but Trump’s response creates a larger threat from nations, such as China and Russia. The latter nations will have more points to expose the US’s hypocrisy in the global arena, and thus, stabilizing the overall power within their countries as well as their allies. In addition, it gives them a “green pass’ in terms of conducting such assassinations, which are essentially linked to people promoting essential values and interests of the US. In the long term, Trump’s denial will make America more dependent on the Kingdom, which will lead to bolder and more extreme actions within Saudi Arabia.

The incident cast a shadow on the dynasty, and later a version appeared that the prince would be extremely cruel. Moreover, in a letter to the Saudi opposition, Omar Abdulaziz Khashoggi allegedly announced that he was going to publish data on the use of chemical weapons by the Saudi army in Yemen. The reaction of the Middle East countries to the killing of Khashoggi was mixed, and Turkey was outraged by the fact that it was committed on its territory.

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The harshest criticism was voiced in the media of Qatar, which has conflicted with the Saudi Kingdom for several years. Al-Jazeera TV reported that among the Saudi princes, there was a group of dissatisfied people who want to demand the king to give up power and deprive Prince Muhammad of the status of the crown prince (Al Jazeera English). The rejection of Muhammad bin Salman by other princes of the dynasty began to form even before the killing of Khashoggi. The fact is that he has become an almost de facto ruler with his aged father, and the Crown Prince organized an anti-corruption campaign, during which 11 princes and several dozens of senior officials were arrested and placed in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel under the supervision of a special team (Washington Post). Subsequently, in this way, he managed to return $ 100 billion to the treasury of the Kingdom. In particular, one of the arrested princes and the richest of them, Walid ibn Talal, was forced to pay $ 6 billion for his release.


The ethos can be observed in the fact that the money was needed to implement the ambitious project Vision 2030, the author of which is MBS. As noted above, the project is based on the idea of ​​abandoning oil as an exclusive source of state revenue. Oil dependence is supposed to be eliminated by 2020, and revenues from non-oil sectors should be increased six times and reach $ 267 billion. The program indicates 80 economic projects worth $ 23.7 billion in areas not related to oil production and oil Recycling (Al Jazeera English). However, the killing of Khashoggi provoked outrage throughout the world. The alleged involvement of the prince in the murder of the journalist, as well as dissatisfaction with his actions against the arrested princes and wealthy Saudis, pushes the opposition, including within the dynasty, to conspire against the prince. According to the Qatari channel Al-Jazeera, rumors spread that it was necessary to persuade the king to resign (Al Jazeera English). It was said that Prince Ahmed, brother of the king, who had recently returned from abroad, could take his place. However, it is unlikely that opposition-minded princes will be able to oppose the current heir to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman since almost all the reins of power are concentrated in his hands. In any case, this will not happen while his father, King Salman bin Abdel Aziz al-Saud, is alive.

Nevertheless, Trump’s main concern with relationship preservation was a major influence on the responsiveness of other nations, which are allies of the US. Political rivals of the ruling parties are trying to take advantage of the indecision of the executive branch in this matter. Against this background, noticeable differences were noted between the United States and the European Union, as well as between the EU member states as regards the development of an adequate response to the murder in Istanbul and the practice of repressing journalists in Saudi Arabia. While Germany went on to declare decisive steps to terminate arms contracts with the Kingdom temporarily, France and the UK chose not to rush into such measures, citing the need for a full investigation of the crime. For his part, Donald Trump is making efforts to minimize the negative consequences of the Istanbul killings on US-Saudi relations, considering them to be important for U.S. interests not only in the field of economy and trade but also for the implementation of the U.S. anti-Iranian strategy in the region.


In conclusion, it is important to understand that the assassination of Khashoggi and subsequent Trump’s response to the event was a decision made based on the short-term vision of the US geopolitics. The main reason is that preserving a stable relationship with the Kingdom will yield a better geopolitical and economic stance in the region, but it undermines the US’s values and future influence. By ignoring or downplaying the tragedy, Trump showcased to other authoritarian nations that the US can be controlled and influenced by having trade deals and partnerships.

Works Cited

Jamal Khashoggi: All You Need to Know About Saudi Journalist’s Death.” BBC, 2019. 

Jamal Khashoggi: The Silencing of a Journalist.YouTube, uploaded by Al Jazeera English, 2019. 

The Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.YouTube, uploaded by Washington Post, 2019. 

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