October 3, 2022
The widow of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is urging President Joe Biden to meet with her before he travels to Saudi Arabia so she can ask him to push for the release of political prisoners in the kingdom.

The widow of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is urging President Joe Biden to meet with her before he travels to Saudi Arabia so she can ask him to push for the release of political prisoners in the kingdom.

But in an interview with the Washington Examiner, Hanan Elatr said that unlike other activists and outside governments, she sees her mission as a limited effort to carry on Khashoggi’s legacy. Elatr insisted that she did not want her husband’s murder to drive a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia, a country she said her former husband loved deeply.

“Saudi and U.S. relations shouldn’t break because of this tragedy,” she said.

Instead, she hopes by sitting down with Biden that the president can help her seek justice for political prisoners in the kingdom and hear directly from someone who had known Khashoggi for more than a decade.

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Biden can “bring about the true wishes of Jamal and his legacy, which is to apply diplomatic pressure to release all prisoners from jail, especially Essam al Zamil, and Sheikh Salman al Awda,” Elatr said during an emotional interview from her home in Virginia, where she is now seeking political asylum. “If my husband were here today, he would do what I’m doing now.”

She said Khashoggi used to cry when talking about al Zamil, a prominent Saudi economist and blogger detained since 2017.

Elatr’s attorney, Randa Fahmy, said this is a moment for Biden, who ran on a promise to uphold human rights, to showcase his commitment to Khashoggi and to helping those imprisoned or killed for their political views.

“The president should meet with Hanan as a sign that he’s not given up on the legacy of Jamal,” Fahmy said.

Though he declined to punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after a U.S. intelligence report determined he was responsible for the 2018 assassination, Biden has refrained from engaging directly with the country’s de facto leader. Elatr thanked Biden for fulfilling a “promise” by publishing the intelligence findings after taking office.

Still, Elatr told the Washington Examiner that more could be done, noting how Biden could urge Turkey to turn over Khashoggi’s devices to investigators who believe they may have been compromised with advanced spying tools.

A forensic investigation in the wake of the journalist’s death indicated that representatives of the Emirati government had installed spyware on Elatr’s devices months before Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered in Istanbul by a Saudi hit team.

In response, the Biden administration blacklisted NSO Group, a technology firm that develops tools allowing smartphones to be covertly monitored. Khashoggi’s widow believes her devices were compromised after she was placed under house arrest by Emirati security officials several months before his death.

NSO has strongly disputed the findings by Citizen Lab, the Washington Post, and others and is working to overturn the government’s designation.

Turkey has referred requests for Khashoggi’s cellphones, laptop, and briefcase to the courts, according to Elatr’s attorney.

In April, the case investigating Khashoggi’s murder was transferred from Turkey to Saudi Arabia.

“I’m not convinced that justice will happen to my husband fairly,” Elatr told the Washington Examiner. In a letter to Biden last week shared exclusively with the Washington Examiner, Elatr wrote that she holds the Saudi and Emirati governments responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.

Fahmy and Elatr said they did not receive a response after sending the letter to Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, on Thursday nor after sending it to the president’s national security adviser and his deputy the following day. The Washington Examiner did not receive a response to multiple requests for comment on Elatr’s letter urging Biden to meet with her to discuss the release of political prisoners.

Biden is facing questions over reports that he is preparing to travel to Saudi Arabia after promising to make the “pariah” kingdom “pay the price” for Khashoggi’s murder on the campaign trail.

The president’s moral calculus appears to be shifting, however, as the U.S. faces surging gasoline prices and four-decade-high inflation that is carving into the public’s pocketbooks.

The president acknowledged the prospect of a visit to the kingdom during a Q&A session with reporters in Delaware on Friday but was adamant that he is “not going to change” his view on human rights.

A meeting between Biden and the crown prince would mark a turn for the president. In the past, Biden has angrily pushed back on the prospect, arguing that his office “should stand for something,” two sources told Politico.

Biden said Friday that he had “no direct plans” to visit Saudi Arabia but may travel to the Middle East to visit Israel and Arab leaders. He added that a trip would likely include Saudi Arabia, stating that his job is “to bring peace” if he can. Asked if he would meet with the crown prince, the president demurred.

“Look, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here,” he told reporters. “What I want to do is see to it that we diminish the likelihood that there’s a continuation of this — some of the senseless wars between Israel and the Arab nations. And that’s what I’m focused on.”

After a two-month truce in the Yemen war was announced Thursday, Biden praised Saudi leaders for their role.

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On Monday, White House officials pushed back on charges that the president is abandoning his principles, arguing that American interests should be prioritized.

“If he determines that it’s in the interest of the United States to engage with a foreign leader and that such an engagement can deliver results, then he’ll do so,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said when asked about Biden’s decision to thaw relations with Saudi Arabia.

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