Former U.S. diplomats expect the American response to the Saudi slaying of dissident Jamal Khashoggi to be muted, and delayed by the midterm elections.

“I think we may see some sanctions that may be initiated more by Congress than the executive branch," said former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan, who served under President George W. Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“It may well be that Congress either passes a separate bill or puts a rider on legislation once they reconvene, which of course won’t be until three weeks from now,” Jordan added.

He said the Senate has already moved in the direction of sanctions by sending a letter to President Trump last week requesting an investigation, which is the first step in a process laid out by a 2016 law aimed specifically at extrajudicial killings and torture, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

The letters put the ball in Trump’s court to take actions within 120 days that could bar Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, implicated in Khashoggi’s death, from receiving travel visas to the U.S., while freezing his assets.

There also could be broader sanctions imposed by the United Nations, or by some Western allies, Jordan said.

But outside of Trump acting on the lawmakers’ request, there won’t likely be any effect on the U.S.-Saudi relationship until the Senate comes back into session.

Guy Caruso, a former head of the Energy Information Administration and CIA analyst now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that he doesn't see Trump as willing to go after the crown prince. “I am guessing the Trump administration bends over backwards” not to “damage MBS’ position,” he said.

Instead, sanctions are more likely to come from direct Senate legislative action. That gives the Saudis at least three weeks.

Adding to the complication are Iran oil sanctions that are about to go into effect in the same early-November time frame as the midterm elections.

“Right now, the Saudis are the main line of defense in dealing with Iran sanctions,” Caruso said, providing the administration a reason to proceed cautiously with the Khashoggi case.

With very little spare oil supply, the oil market could easily worsen at any time if there were disruptions related to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. needs Saudi Arabia’s massive oil production spare capacity, with which it can inject millions of barrels into the market very quickly.

On the other hand, the Saudis aren’t likely to hit back at U.S. sanctions by curtailing supply and raising the price of oil.

“The last thing they want is oil at $150 per barrel,” Jordan said. “That provides enormous incentives for alternative sources of energy they don’t want.”

Jordan said he would also like to see a “stern message” sent by Trump to the private sector to end foreign direct investment in the kingdom.

The private sector has already pulled out of a major investment conference that Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was scheduled to attend. The secretary announced earlier in the week that he has scrapped his travel plans.

The private sector’s snub of the Saudi conference next week “sends a significant message to the Saudis,” Jordan said. “They care very much about their public image, and that image has been tarnished,” especially in the eyes of the business community, he said.

Another risk of provoking the Saudis is that they could back out of investments in U.S. companies. The Saudi oil company owns a 100 percent stake in the Motiva refinery in Texas, the largest refinery complex in the country.

But one safe tool the administration could use, Jordan suggested, would be to place its arms deals with Saudi Arabia on pause, because they take years to be fulfilled under military procurement rules, and there is no rush.

Jordan also said that any assistance being provided by the U.S. military in terms of refueling, intelligence, munitions, and logistics in the Yemen war could also be placed on pause by the administration.

But others believe the relevant diplomatic parties in the Khashoggi killing are Turkey and Saudi Arabia, not the U.S. at all.

"Whatever comes of this ... to explain Jamal's disappearance, that will be between the Saudis and the Turks," said Chas Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. "We are very much a bystander."

Freeman knew and liked Khashoggi. He stood against Crown Prince Salman's ideas of "one-man rule," which conflicted with the old tradition of gaining consensus among different segments of the Saudi royal family, Freeman said.

"The Saudi system was one that distributed power very widely," he said. "It had checks and balances against someone arbitrarily making a decision and having it carried out."

On one hand, it was frustrating to deal with the Saudis because they were slow to make decisions, Freeman said. "But that's what saved the place from making real errors and having widespread abuse of royal power."

Freeman said the current regime didn't like Khashoggi for that reason, while it also appeared he was in the process of "forming a group to change the system of government in Saudi Arabia."

The Saudi government on Friday admitted for the first time that Khashoggi is officially dead. The formal declaration of death followed the regime saying that it did not intend to kill Khashoggi — who resided in the U.S. — but that his death was an accident that followed his kidnapping and interrogation by Saudi agents.