Mat­tis says slay­ing of writer is threat to re­gional sta­bil­ity

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

MANAMA, Bahrain — The killing of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi “undermines re­gional sta­bil­ity” and the U.S. State Depart­ment plans to take fur­ther ac­tion in re­sponse to the killing, U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis said Sat­ur­day at an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence in the Mid­dle East.

Mat­tis never men­tioned Saudi Ara­bia di­rectly in con­nec­tion with the Oct. 2 slay­ing of Khashoggi at the king­dom’s con­sulate in Is­tan­bul, Turkey. But he noted that Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo re­voked visas of Saudis im­pli­cated in the killing of the Wash­ing­ton Post writer, and he said ad­di­tional mea­sures will be taken.

Turk­ish of­fi­cials have said that a Saudi team of 15 men tor­tured, killed and dis­mem­bered the writer. The king­dom ini­tially said it knew noth­ing about what hap­pened to Khashoggi, but on Thurs­day said ev­i­dence shows that the killing was pre­med­i­tated.

Mat­tis made no move to di­rectly blame Saudi Ara­bia and did not re­fer to the calls from mem­bers of Congress to cut arms sales to Riyadh or im­pose sanc­tions on the king­dom. But his broader men­tion of the mat­ter to­ward the end of his speech un­der­scores the se­ri­ous na­tional se­cu­rity ram­i­fi­ca­tions the in­ci­dent poses for re­la­tions with a key U.S. ally.

“With our col­lec­tive in­ter­ests in peace and un­wa­ver­ing re­spect for hu­man rights in mind, the mur­der of Ja­mal Khashoggi in a diplo­matic fa­cil­ity must con­cern us all greatly,” Mat­tis told in­ter­na­tional of­fi­cials and ex­perts at the Manama Di­a­logue.

“Fail­ure of any one na­tion to ad­here to in­ter­na­tional norms and the rule of law undermines re­gional sta­bil­ity at a time when it is needed most.”

Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter Adel Jubeir, who spoke af­ter Mat­tis at the con­fer­ence, said hys­ter­i­cal me­dia are rush­ing to judg­ment in the Khashoggi case.

“Un­for­tu­nately there has been this hys­te­ria in the me­dia about Saudi Ara­bia’s guilt be­fore the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is com­pleted,” he said, in re­sponse to ques­tions about the killing. “What we say to peo­ple is wait un­til every­thing is done” then de­cide if the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was se­ri­ous or not.

He said that the king­dom will hold those re­spon­si­ble ac­count­able and put mech­a­nisms in place to en­sure this doesn’t hap­pen again.

Still, Mat­tis’ speech also re­flected the dif­fi­cult dilemma this has caused. In one sec­tion deeply crit­i­cal of Iran, he re­ferred to the on­go­ing at­tacks on Saudi by Ira­nian-backed Houthi mil­i­tants in Ye­men.

“I re­it­er­ate U.S. sup­port for our part­ners’ right to de­fend them­selves against Ira­nian-sup­plied Houthi at­tacks on their sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory, and at the same time call for an ur­gent end to the fight­ing,” Mat­tis said.

Oth­ers in the U.S., how­ever, have con­demned the Saudis for what has been called in­dis­crim­i­nate bomb­ings that have slaugh­tered civil­ians.

Saudi Ara­bia’s slow shift to re­veal more de­tails about the killing also re­flects the king­dom’s ac­knowl­edg­ment that the killing could have a se­ri­ous diplo­matic, and pos­si­bly eco­nomic im­pact.

Khashoggi lived in self­im­posed ex­ile in the U.S. for the past year and wrote ed­i­to­rial col­umns for The Wash­ing­ton Post that were crit­i­cal of Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man.

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