Khashoggi killing: Senators defy Trump with vote on US support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen war

Resolution to halt support for Saudi-led conflict clears first hurdle in Senate

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Wednesday 28 November 2018 20:34 GMT
Donald Trump: 'maybe the world should be held accountable' for Jamal Khashoggi murder

The US Senate has voted to debate ending US support for the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen, amid growing resistance to the conflict.

After a behind-closed-doors update from Mike Pompeo and James Mattis, in which disappointment was the common theme, the Senate passed a resolution 63-37 to begin officially debating the matter on the floor.

A number of senators sought the vote, over US support for the war against Houthi rebels in Yemen as part of a pushback against Donald Trump's stance. At least 10,000 civilians have died in the conflict, which began in 2015.

A new poll shows the majority of Americans oppose US support for the war.

The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October has sparked outrage around the world and piled pressure onto Riyadh's royal family. But Mr Trump has dismissed a reported CIA assessment that is said to assert with "high confidence" that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is linked to the killing of Khashoggi.

Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is often strongly allied with Mr Trump, voted to move forward with the resolution and said he would insist on a briefing from CIA director Gina Haspel.

He even threatened to withhold his vote on key measures if that did not happen and declared: "I'm not going to blow past this."

“If you don't draw the line here, where do you draw the line?" he added.

Saudi officials have repeatedly denied that Crown Prince Mohammed is connected in any way to the murder, which Riyadh's public prosecutor has blamed on a "rogue" squad of kidnappers looking to take Mr Khashoggi - a critic of the royal family - back to Saudi Arabia.

“I am not going to be denied the ability to be briefed by the CIA, that we have oversight of, about whether or not their assessment supports my belief that this could not have happened without MbS knowing,” Senator Graham told reporters, using a shorthand for the Saudi crown prince's initials.

Secretary of State Pompeo stuck close to Mr Trump in speaking to reporters after the behind-closed-doors Senate briefing. “There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi,” Mr Pompeo said, after he and Defence Secretary Mattis told senators that weakening US-Saudi ties over the killing would be a threat to national security.

Mr Trump has said that he does not want to risk millions of dollars in arms deals with Saudi Arabia over the killing, and has said that the CIA's assessment is not a conclusive view on the matter.

National Security advisor John Bolton hasn't listened to Khashoggi tape: 'Unless you speak Arabic what are you gonna get from it?'

"Whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently. His father denies, the king, vehemently," Mr Trump said recently. The CIA doesn’t say they did it. They do point out certain things, and in pointing out those things, you can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn’t," he said.

Senators are clear that they want to hear CIA officials views on the killing before a decision is made on a full US response to Mr Khashoggi's 2 October murder, being particularly angry that neither CIA Director Gina Haspel or Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats were present.

“MbS has not taken ownership of the death,” Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said after the briefing.

Addressing the possibility of a full Senate vote on ending US support for the war in Yemen, where millions are facing famine, Mr Pompeo argued the humanitarian crisis “would be a hell of a lot worse" without US involvement.

Mr Pompeo argued “all we would achieve from an American drawdown is a stronger Iran and a reinvigorated Isis and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)” before adding: “Try defending that outcome back home.”

Mr Mattis made the point the US is "seldom free to work with unblemished partners," according to an excerpt of his statement released by the Pentagon.

“Long-standing relationships guide but do not blind us. Saudi Arabia, due to geography and the Iranian threat, is fundamental to maintaining regional and Israeli security, and to our interest in Mid-East stability," he said.

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Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a rare moment of publicly disagreeing with the president, said there has to be “some kind of response” from the US on the matter.

Khashoggi worked for The Washington Post and was a green card holder for several years. He was a fierce advocate for amplifying regular Arab voices and wrote often about freedom of speech.

"What obviously happened, as basically certified by the CIA, is completely abhorrent to everything the United States holds dear and stands for in the world," Mr McConnell said.

"We're discussing what the appropriate response would be,” he noted.

The resolution to end American involvement in the Yemeni conflict was brought by Senators Bernie Sanders and Republican Mike Lee earlier in the year but initially fell short by just six votes.

Our support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen has created a humanitarian crisis. Call your Senators and tell them to support S.J. Res. 54, my bill with @SenSanders and @SenMikeLee to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen.

Mr Trump may meet with Crown Prince Mohammed at the upcoming G20 meeting and has said he may discuss Mr Khashoggi's death.

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