Washington: It raised eyebrows six weeks ago when Saudi Arabia’s aged king, Salman, named his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as prime minister. The kingdom’s laws designate the king as prime minister. King Salman had to declare a temporary exception to loan out the title, and at the same time made clear he retains key duties.
But that move reaped dividends Thursday when the Biden administration declared that Prince Mohammed’s standing as prime minister shielded him from a U.S. lawsuit over what the U.S. intelligence community says was his role in Saudi officials’ 2018 killing of a U.S.-based journalist. A judge will now decide whether Prince Mohammed has immunity.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby insisted Friday that the administration’s declaration of immunity for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was purely a “legal determination” that “has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of the case itself.”
Many experts in international law agreed with the administration — but only because of the king’s late September title boost for the crown prince, ahead of a scheduled U.S. decision.
“It would have been just as remarkable for the United States to deny MBS’s head-of-state immunity after his appointment as Prime Minister as it would have been for the United States to recognize MBS’s head-of-state immunity before his appointment,” William S. Dodge, a professor at the University of California-Davis School of Law, wrote, using the prince’s initials.