Washington imposed sanctions on some Saudis for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but fell short of sanctions against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

An Indonesian journalist holds a placard during a protest over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 19, 2018.
An Indonesian journalist holds a placard during a protest over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 19, 2018. (Beawiharta / Reuters)

The US State Department is urging Saudi Arabia to disband an elite unit that Washington sanctioned over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"We have urged Saudi Arabia to disband this group and then adopt institutional, systemic reforms and controls to ensure that anti-dissident activities and operations cease and cease completely," State Department spokesman Ned Price said of the Rapid Intervention Force.

The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the force, meaning any US transactions with it will be a crime.

Price, following up on Friday's release of the report, vowed that the Biden administration would put a higher priority on human rights following former president Donald Trump's chummy relationship with the Saudis.

He said the United States would maintain its longstanding alliance with the oil-producing kingdom but said "we can only address these many important challenges in a partnership with Saudi Arabia that respects America's values."

Future conduct

The US is focused on the future conduct of Saudi Arabia and will expect Riyadh to improve its human rights record.

"We are very focused on future conduct and that is part of why we have cast this not as a rupture, but as a recalibration" of US-Saudi relations, Price said.

Washington fell short of imposing sanctions against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who it accuses of controlling the Rapid Intervention Force.

READ MORE: US intel: Saudi crown prince approved op to capture or kill Khashoggi

The United States on Friday declassified a report that said the crown prince approved an operation in 2018 to capture or kill Khashoggi and issued some sanctions against Saudi nationals and entities.

Washington's failure to penalise the crown prince has been criticised by rights groups and others, raising questions about accountability and the Biden administration's pledge to make human rights a foreign policy priority.

Prince Mohammed has denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s killing, for which eight people were jailed in Saudi Arabia last year, but has said he bears ultimate responsibility because it happened on his watch.

"We are trying to get to the systemic issues underlying the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi," Price said.

The US also welcomed the recent release of two human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, Price said, but asked Riyadh to do more by lifting the travel ban on them.

Price also called on Saudi Arabia to take further action after last month provisionally releasing Loujain al Hathloul, an advocate for women's right to drive in the ultra-conservative kingdom who was jailed for nearly three years.

"We are urging Saudi Arabia to take additional steps to lift travel bans on those released to commute sentences and resolve cases such as those of women's rights activists and others," Price said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies