Jour­nal­ist Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance may send US-Saudi re­la­tions into a tail­spin

The sus­pected mur­der of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi gov­ern­ment, who went miss­ing last Tues­day af­ter vis­it­ing the king­dom’s con­sulate in Is­tan­bul, may turn tra­di­tional al­lies, the U.S. and Saudi Ara­bia, into en­e­mies, ex­perts ar­gue

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - MUSTAFA KIRIKÇIOĞLU – ANKARA

IT WAS a year ago that Don­ald Trump joined in a tra­di­tional sword jig in Saudi Ara­bia where he was sway­ing and smirk­ing with plea­sure on the de­fense deal with Riyadh, pledg­ing $110 bil­lion im­me­di­ately and an es­ti­mated $300 bil­lion over 10 years. Trump got what he was seek­ing and the Saudi of­fi­cials were happy with the de­vel­op­ment of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with its tra­di­tional ally. The nu­clear deal with Iran ini­ti­ated by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had caused U.S.-Saudi ties to hit rock bot- tom al­though later this deal would later be la­belled as “the worst deal ever” by Trump; some­thing many in Riyadh agree with. De­spite the U.S. pres­i­dent’s in­sult­ing state­ments over U.S. pro­tec­tion of the king­dom and sheer at­tempts of cap­i­tal­iz­ing the Saudi gov­ern­ment, re­la­tions had gained mo­men­tum dur­ing Trump’s ten­ure due to com­mon in­ter­ests, par­tic­u­larly on Iran, as once stated by the Saudis that “the two coun­tries share the same views on the grav­ity of the Ira­nian ex­pan­sion­ist moves in the re­gion.” Now how­ever, the sus­pected mur­der of 59-yearold Saudi dis­si­dent Ja­mal Khashoggi, a Wash­ing­ton Post con­trib­u­tor, in the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul, could turn the tide in re­la­tions and will pos­si­bly af­fect Trump’s re­la­tions with Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed Bin Sal­man (widely re­ferred to sim­ply as MBS). Ali Ba­keer, an ex­pert on Mid­dle East­ern af­fairs, told Daily Sabah that if the Saudis are re­spon­si­ble for killing or kid­nap­ping Khashoggi, and the avail­able ev­i­dence un­til now points to them, then this “bar­baric” act should be met with a strong re­sponse not only from Turkey but also from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and the U.S. in par­tic­u­lar.

“BE­CAUSE many be­lieve that it is Trump’s kind of spe­cial re­la­tion with Crown Prince Mo­hammed Bin Sal­man which em­bold­ens the lat­ter to ex­e­cute reckless, ir­re­spon­si­ble and dan­ger­ous poli­cies in­side Saudi Ara­bia and out­side of it,” he said.

Khashoggi has been miss­ing since last Tues­day af­ter en­ter­ing the Saudi con­sulate to gather doc­u­ments for mar­riage. His fi­ancee and friends have said he did not leave the build­ing. He was re­port­edly killed by an as­sas­si­na­tion squad, which in­cluded a foren­sic ex­pert that ar­rived in two pri­vate jets shortly be­fore their vic­tim’s ap­point­ment at the con­sulate and left Turkey later the same day. So far, footage re­leased shows Khashoggi en­ter­ing the con­sulate build­ing, how­ever, no footage has been re­leased show­ing his exit from the con­sulate.

GROW­ING PRES­SURE OVER TRUMP

Twenty-two Repub­li­can and Demo­crat se­na­tors sent a let­ter on Wed­nes­day to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to in­ves­ti­gate the Khashoggi case by in­vok­ing the Global Mag­nit­sky Act of 2016. It would mean trig­ger­ing a hu­man rights probe that could re­sult in sanc­tions in 120 days against Saudi of­fi­cials and en­ti­ties. Se­na­tors Bob Corker, Chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee and Lind­sey Gra­ham, the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee on State, For­eign Op­er­a­tions and Re­lated Pro­grams, were among those who signed the let­ter.

Gra­ham also told re­porters on Wed­nes­day that “there would be hell to pay” if the miss­ing jour­nal­ist was mur­dered by the Saudi gov­ern­ment, adding that the mur­der would “cross ev­ery line of nor­mal­ity in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

Many renowned U.S. in­tel­lec­tu­als also called on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to pres­sure the Saudi gov­ern­ment to shed light on the Khashoggi case.

One of them was the New York Times colum­nist and Pulitzer Prize win­ning au­thor Thomas L. Fried­man. “Pres­i­dent Trump must ask the Saudis to give a full and cred­i­ble ac­count of what hap­pened to Ja­mal Khashoggi in­side their Is­tan­bul con­sulate. And tell us what he knows too,” he tweeted last week.

Speak­ing on the pos­si­ble ef­fects of the Khashoggi case on Saudi-U.S. re­la­tions, Jor­da­nian jour­nal­ist Ehssan Al­fa­keeh told Daily Sabah that de­spite U.S.-Saudi re­la­tions be­ing his­tor­i­cally strong and solid, drafts such as pre­vent­ing the sale of U.S. arms to the Saudis by Congress could cause an es­ca­la­tion and even­tu­ally lead to in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions or iso­la­tion led by Wash­ing­ton.

“It is known that the jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi holds an ‘A’ per­mit and a spe­cial visa for those who have ex­cep­tional priv­i­leges to en­ter the United States and work in its in­sti­tu­tions and ter­ri­to­ries, which makes it a hu­man­i­tar­ian and moral re­spon­si­bil­ity for the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to fol­low up the mat­ter and in­ves­ti­gate the facts,” she said.

Al­fa­keeh added that the U.S. gov­ern­ment will use the in­ci­dent to fur­ther eco­nomic ben­e­fits and black­mail Saudi Ara­bia.

Trump’s volatile diplo­macy has also af­fected ties with Saudi Ara­bia. He had hailed his per­sonal friend­ship with MBS dur­ing the crown prince’s 20-day visit to Wash­ing­ton in May, mak­ing a long pre­sen­ta­tion to re­porters on the Saudi mil­i­tary pur­chases from the U.S. val­ued at more than $12.5 bil­lion. But Trump has of­ten talked down to Saudi of­fi­cials by as­sert­ing that the U.S. is “pro­tect­ing” them, there­fore they need to pay more money in ex­change for this pro­tec­tion.

“We pro­tect Saudi Ara­bia. Would you say they’re rich. And I love the King, King Sal­man. But I said ‘King — we’re pro­tect­ing you — you might not be there for two weeks with­out us — you have to pay for your mil­i­tary,’” Trump said ear­lier in Oc- to­ber to cheers at a rally in Mis­sis­sippi.

De­spite this Riyadh’s re­sponses re­mained weak against Trump’s in­sults. MBS said his coun­try will not pay Wash­ing­ton for its own se­cu­rity, say­ing his oil-rich king­dom was cre­ated be­fore the U.S. it­self.

“Khashoggi had good re­la­tions with Amer­i­can de­ci­sion-mak­ing cir­cles, so his death in this way leads to ten­sion be­tween U.S.-Saudi re­la­tions, which is nat­u­rally tense as a re­sult of Trump’s ex­tor­tion of the Saudi lead­er­ship and the de­mand to pay more money on the pre­text of pro­tect­ing it, which up­set the Saudi lead­er­ship,” said Ab­dul­hamid Qutb, an Egyp­tian jour­nal­ist work­ing for the Qatari Al-Sharq news­pa­per.

“There­fore, I be­lieve Khashoggi’s as­sas­si­na­tion will lead to a sig­nif­i­cant im­bal­ance of re­la­tions, which was clearly re­flected in the call by Amer­i­can of­fi­cials to stop ex­port­ing arms to Riyadh and to hold those in­volved in Khashoggi’s as­sas­si­na­tion ac­count­able.”

DID THE U.S. KNOW ABOUT THE AS­SAS­SI­NA­TION?

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported on Tues­day that U.S. in­tel­li­gence ser­vices were aware of Saudi Ara­bia’s plans to cap­ture Khashoggi.

Cit­ing a per­son fa­mil­iar with the case, the re­port said U.S. in­tel­li­gence in­ter­cepted the com­mu­ni­ca­tions of Saudi of­fi­cials elab­o­rat­ing on a plan to seize Khashoggi.

Ba­keer said that if it turned out that the U.S. in­tel­li­gence knew about the Saudi plan of as­sas­si­nat­ing Khashoggi and they didn’t warn him at least or warn the Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties or even take an ac­tion to pre­vent such an op­er­a­tion, “then this would tell much about how harm­ful the re­la­tion be­tween MBS and Trump is be­com­ing to the U.S. in­sti­tu­tions.”

A BLOW TO THE ‘RE­FORMIST’ IM­AGE OF THE CROWN PRINCE

The sus­pected killing of Khashoggi is also ex­pected to deal a heavy blow to Mo­hammed bin Sal­man’s im­age, who has spent a lot of money to por­tray him­self as a mod­er­ate re­formist. His im­age has al­ready suf­fered due to Saudi mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in neigh­bor­ing Ye­men that be­gan in 2015, which has claimed the lives of thou­sands of peo­ple and even­tu­ally turn­ing into a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

Al­fa­keeh said that the cur­rent Saudi gov­ern­ment has a neg­a­tive record of ar­rest­ing large num­bers of sci­en­tists, stu­dents, in­tel­lec­tu­als, aca­demics, busi­ness­men, eco­nomic ex­perts and civil rights ac­tivists. “About mo­ti­va­tions, each case is dif­fer­ent from the other, but gen­er­ally it is the de­mand for a se­ries of in­ter­nal or ex­ter­nal re­forms in state pub­lic pol­icy, the lack of ab­so­lute ac­cep­tance of of­fi­cial poli­cies with de­mands for greater free­dom and par­tic­i­pa­tion in de­ci­sion-mak­ing,” she said, re­gard­ing the ar­rests.

Peo­ple, in­clud­ing a demon­stra­tor dressed as Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man with blood on his hands, protest out­side the Saudi Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton, DC, Oct. 8, de­mand­ing jus­tice for Ja­mal Khashoggi.

Decades of close U.S.-Saudi Ara­bia re­la­tions have in­ten­si­fied un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

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