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The House of Saud: This family needs an intervention

The Saudi royal family is watching its kingdom turn into a pariah state.

No one believes its lies, its laughable assertion that Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi died in a fistfight at the country’s consulate in Istanbul.

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And virtually no one, save for President Donald Trump, thinks the heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was, as he insists, a doe-eyed bystander.

There’s broad consensus in the West that an assassination in Turkey of a journalist who was living in the U.S. could only have taken place with the assent of the crown prince. And the Saudi claim that Khashoggi died after “a fight and a quarrel” falls apart when you consider the evidence that suggests premeditated murder:

The team of 15 Saudi agents dispatched to Istanbul included a Khashoggi body double who put on the dead man’s clothes after the killing so security camera video images would show a very much alive “Khashoggi” walking out of the consulate. With the group was an autopsy expert who decided to bring a bone saw on his trip. And if a fight broke out, wouldn’t a squad of 15 security agents be able to subdue a 59-year-old man without killing him?

The Saudi kingdom has never been a poster child for the sanctity of human rights. Nevertheless, the royal family’s alleged actions in the Khashoggi saga — from the planning to the murder to the cover-up — imperil Saudi Arabia’s ties with the West, and the U.S. in particular.

Will the royal family reform on its own?

Doubtful.

The House of Saud needs help.

It needs an intervention.

In this case, an intervention can take the form of Western leaders, Trump included, confronting the royal family with a nonnegotiable demand: Acknowledge the crown prince’s role in what happened to Khashoggi. That would put the royal family on a path of restoring at least some measure of credibility.

Without that acknowledgment, Riyadh risks being seen by the West as a partner that can’t be trusted, and the U.S. risks being cast as an enabler of MBS’ deceit.

A bipartisan call is growing for sanctions against the kingdom.

Invoking the Magnitsky Act would be a good start. That would allow the U.S. to target individuals deemed culpable in Khashoggi’s death by freezing their assets and imposing travel restrictions.

Arms sales to the Saudis should be suspended.

Some have called for a freeze in relations with Saudi Arabia. But that’s unrealistic, given the kingdom’s vital role in the Middle East, its alliance with the U.S. against Iran, and the deep economic relationship between America and the Saudi kingdom.

For its part, the royal family needs to take stock of itself.

King Salman, 82, entrusted the day-to-day stewardship of his kingdom to MBS. In that time, the crown prince has overseen the arrests of prominent activists campaigning for the right for women to drive, the abduction of Lebanon’s prime minister and a brutal military campaign in Yemen that has killed scores of civilians.

Now comes the Khashoggi incident.

Can the king continue to risk Saudi Arabia’s place in the world for the sake of a son who has inflicted so much damage to the kingdom?

That’s for King Salman to decide, not the U.S.

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But Trump and the rest of the West — with the right mix of cajoling and pressure — can try to steer the king in the right direction.

— Chicago Tribune