Senators voted Thursday to recommend that the U.S. end its assistance to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen and put the blame for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi squarely on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Dec. 13)
WASHINGTON – Top lawmakers in both parties revived a push to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi – unveiling legislation Thursday that would block U.S. arms sales to the kingdom and impose mandatory sanctions on those found responsible for his death.
“Seeing as the Trump administration has no intention of insisting on full accountability for Mr. Khashoggi’s murderers, it is time for Congress to step in and impose real consequences to fundamentally reexamine our relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen,” Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in announcing the bill Thursday.
Three Republicans and three other Democrats have also signed on to the legislation, which comes as the White House faces a deadline to determine whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was personally responsible for Khashoggi’s killing.
President Donald Trump has condemned the murder but continued to embrace the Saudi royal family and questioned his own intelligence agency’s conclusions that implicate crown prince.
Furious with Trump’s equivocation, lawmakers last year used a federal human rights law to force the administration to determine whether the crown prince was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
The deadline for that determination is Feb. 7. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said the administration continued to engage with Congress on the Khashoggi case but would not say Thursday if the administration would meet the deadline.
“It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close ally of President Donald Trump who has nonetheless been critical of the administration’s response to Khashoggi’s death. Graham is one of the GOP senators who authored the bill.
In addition to blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the Senate bill would bar the U.S. from refueling Saudi jets in the Yemen war, sanction anyone blocking humanitarian aid to Yemen, and require a human rights report on Saudi Arabia.
Graham and others pushed the bill last year but it failed to gain traction before the end of the 115th Congress. The Senate did approve a measure that would force the Trump administration to withdraw U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a horrific conflict that has become increasingly controversial in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder.
But that measure stalled in the House, which was then controlled by Republicans. With Democrats now in charge, the Yemen measure has reemerged and is likely to gain traction, along with additional steps rebuking Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi.
Khashoggi was killed inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey last year. The Saudis have admitted that a team of operatives carried out the killing but they have denied the crown prince was involved.
U.S. intelligence officials have reportedly concluded, however, that the crown prince directed the killing. After CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed lawmakers, the Senate passed a resolution naming the crown prince as “responsible” for Khashoggi’s murder.
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard
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