Mat­tis faces crit­i­cism af­ter com­ments in Khashoggi case

Iran Daily - - International -

US De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis, who has en­joyed a level of bi­par­ti­san sup­port rarely seen in Wash­ing­ton, is fac­ing mount­ing pub­lic crit­i­cism amid the fall­out from the slay­ing of Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi.

The fresh scru­tiny of Mat­tis, of­ten por­trayed at home and abroad as a trusted stew­ard of US val­ues dur­ing the tur­bu­lent times of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, came on the heels of his im­ple­men­ta­tion of a con­tro­ver­sial mil­i­tary or­der to place troops on the Us-mex­ico bor­der, a move crit­ics slammed as a po­lit­i­cal stunt, AFP re­ported.

The most vo­cal at­tack on the for­mer Marine gen­eral came from a mem­ber of Trump’s own Re­pub­li­can Party this week, when Sen­a­tor Lind­sey Gra­ham blasted the Pen­tagon chief and sec­re­tary of state, Mike Pom­peo, for re­fus­ing to di­rectly link Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man to Khashoggi’s mur­der at the king­dom’s Is­tan­bul con­sulate in Oc­to­ber.

Mat­tis has re­peat­edly con­demned the killing and called for those re­spon­si­ble to be held to ac­count, but in­sisted he had seen “no smok­ing gun” con­nect­ing bin Sal­man to the Khashoggi mur­der.

“You have to be will­fully blind” not to con­clude the mur­der was or­ches­trated by peo­ple un­der Prince Mo­hammed’s com­mand, Gra­ham said, fol­low­ing a brief­ing to sev­eral sen­a­tors by CIA Di­rec­tor Gina Haspel.

“There’s not a smok­ing gun, but a smok­ing saw,” Gra­ham added, re­fer­ring to the re­ported grisly de­tail that an au­topsy spe­cial­ist dis­mem­bered Khashoggi’s body with a bone saw.

Gra­ham is a fire­brand in US pol­i­tics, and his bouts of in­dig­na­tion should be viewed through the prism of his own am­bi­tion. Ini­tially a fierce Trump op­po­nent, he con­verted to a staunch ally, and Wash­ing­ton ob­servers say he is an­gling for a top post­ing in the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

‘I need the ev­i­dence’

Still, Gra­ham was not alone in his up­braid­ing. Demo­cratic Sen­a­tor Chris Mur­phy said Mat­tis and Pom­peo have tried to “push aside” the ques­tion of bin Sal­man’s in­volve­ment and said that when the two men spoke to sen­a­tors last week they had sought to mis­lead law­mak­ers.

They “knew that there was no way this mur­der hap­pened without the con­sent and di­rec­tion of MBS,” Mur­phy told MSNBC, us­ing the ab­bre­vi­a­tion for Mo­hammed bin Sal­man.

And Re­pub­li­can Bob Corker, who leads the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, came to a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion, say­ing a jury would con­vict bin Sal­man “in less than 30 min­utes.”

On Wed­nes­day, Mat­tis said Gra­ham has “the right to his own opin­ion” and re­it­er­ated his care­ful in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the in­tel on Khashoggi’s mur­der. “If I say some­thing, I need the ev­i­dence,” Mat­tis said. “We are con­tin­u­ing to re­view. I am quite sat­is­fied we will find more ev­i­dence of what hap­pened. I just don’t know what it is go­ing to be or who will be im­pli­cated, but we will fol­low it as far as we can.”

‘Com­plicit’ res­o­lu­tion

Saudi Ara­bia has sought to dis­tance bin Sal­man from the mur­der and has re­ceived un­bend­ing sup­port from Trump, who sees Riyadh as a vi­tal se­cu­rity part­ner in the Mid­dle East and a key oil ex­porter and buyer of US arms.

But US law­mak­ers have grown in­creas­ingly leery about Amer­i­can sup­port for the Saudi-led mil­i­tary cam­paign in Yemen.

A bi­par­ti­san group of sen­a­tors on Wed­nes­day in­tro­duced a res­o­lu­tion that, if ap­proved, would say the Se­nate “has a high level of con­fi­dence” bin Sal­man was “com­plicit” in Khashoggi’s killing, and would as­sail Riyadh for its role in Yemen’s hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. The Se­nate could also vote on a sep­a­rate mea­sure next week to force the US to end its mil­i­tary sup­port to the Saudi-led coali­tion in Yemen.

Mat­tis’s cau­tious words come at a sen­si­tive time. He must tread a fine line with Saudi Ara­bia as he pub­licly and pri­vately pushes Riyadh to ne­go­ti­ate for a peace set­tle­ment with Houthi An­sarul­lah move­ment in Yemen.

For his part, Trump has said “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t” when asked if bin Sal­man knew about the plot to kill Khashoggi. Gra­ham sug­gested Mat­tis and Pom­peo were be­ing vague in their in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments to please Trump.

“The rea­son they don’t draw the con­clu­sion that he’s com­plicit is be­cause the ad­min­is­tra­tion doesn’t want to go down that road, not be­cause there’s not ev­i­dence to sug­gest he’s com­plicit,” Gra­ham said.


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