U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price faced a tough line of questioning Monday from Associated Press reporter Matt Lee on President Joe Biden’s actions against Saudi Arabia.
The Biden administration has faced criticism in recent days for not directly sanctioning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who was implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a newly declassified U.S. intelligence report last week. The Biden administration has defended the decision by saying the U.S. has not historically sanctioned the leaders of countries that it has diplomatic relations with, a claim Lee said is “just simply not true.”
“I can give you a number of examples,” Lee went on to say. “Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Myanmar … Sudan. All of these are countries with which the United States has had — has diplomatic relations … I don’t understand how this is an argument.” (RELATED: ‘Negative, False, And Unacceptable’: Saudis Reject US Report On Khashoggi Murder)
Price did not directly address the criticism, instead saying that the U.S. has profound disagreements with many countries around the world. “These countries in many cases are competitors, in some cases some of our staunchest competitors. In some cases they are adversaries. And in most of those cases, we do not have sanctions on their leadership,” he responded.
Price also added that the Biden administration is committed to a “recalibration” of America’s “partnership” with Saudi Arabia. The New York Times reported last week that President Biden did not want to directly sanction the Crown Prince due to concerns it would harm diplomatic relations.
“I get that, but it’s not correct that the United States has not historically imposed sanctions on leaders of countries,” Lee began to say, before being cut off by Price. “Matt, there are limited exceptions to that, but they are exceptional,” Price said. (RELATED: Biden Sanctions Military Organizers Of Burma Coup, Freezes $1 Billion In US Aid To Burmese Government)
In response to the Khashoggi report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Biden administration announced sanctions on one former high-ranking Saudi intelligence official. The country’s “Rapid Intervention Force” was also sanctioned.
“I just named six countries, plus two that you’ve closed down the embassies on,” Lee insisted. “I’m trying to get you to say, you acknowledge that that argument is not correct.”
“I would rather not argue about a rather picayune point,” Price responded. Lee moved on to another topic but not before adding: “You might think that it’s picayune, but I don’t. If you’re going to go out and say that this is historically an American foreign policy tradition, then it should be historically an American foreign policy tradition. It isn’t.”