Con­gress, Trump ar­gue over Saudi sanc­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY DAVE BOYER

Con­gress was head­ing for a show­down with Pres­i­dent Trump on Sun­day over sanc­tions against Saudi Ara­bia for the killing of dis­si­dent jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi, amid grow­ing bi­par­ti­san crit­i­cism of the pres­i­dent’s re­luc­tance to pin blame on the Saudi royal fam­ily.

Sen. Chris Mur­phy, Con­necti­cut Demo­crat and a mem­ber of the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, said sanc­tions against Saudi Ara­bia are “prob­a­bly the most ap­pro­pri­ate step” af­ter Mr. Trump skipped a con­gres­sional dead­line Fri­day for de­liv­er­ing a re­port on who’s re­spon­si­ble for the slay­ing of Khashoggi.

“Con­gress doesn’t have to wait for the pres­i­dent to ful­fill his duty,” Mr. Mur­phy said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We can just make a de­ter­mi­na­tion our­selves that [Saudi Crown Prince] Mo­hammed bin Sal­man or­dered these mur­ders and there should be some kind of penalty and reper­cus­sions for that.”

A bi­par­ti­san group of law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing Demo­cratic Sen. Bob Me­nen­dez of New Jer­sey and Repub­li­can Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina, in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion Fri­day that would bar cer­tain arms sales to Riyadh in re­sponse to Khashoggi’s slay­ing last Oc­to­ber by Saudi op­er­a­tives, and its role in Ye­men’s civil war.

“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 re-ex­am­ine our re­la­tion­ship with the king­dom of Saudi Ara­bia and with the Saudi-led coali­tion in Ye­men,” Mr. Me­nen­dez said in a state­ment.

Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter

Adel Al Jubeir said af­ter meet­ing with law­mak­ers Fri­day that Con­gress should wait for the out­come of tri­als of 17 al­leged as­sailants of Khashoggi, in­clud­ing five men who are fac­ing the death penalty. He said im­pos­ing sanc­tions now would be “putting the cart be­fore the horse.”

“I wish Con­gress would take a step back,” he said.

Mr. Al Jubeir in­sisted that the crown prince, who is the de facto ruler of Saudi Ara­bia, did not au­tho­rize the killing. He called the slay­ing a “rogue op­er­a­tion.”

“There was no or­der given to con­duct this op­er­a­tion,” he said, de­scrib­ing the mur­der of the dis­si­dent as a “huge mis­take.”

Khashoggi, an Amer­i­can res­i­dent and a colum­nist for The Washington Post, was killed last Oc­to­ber at the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul, Turkey, by the team of Saudi op­er­a­tives. His body has not been re­cov­ered.

U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have con­cluded that the crown prince at least had knowl­edge of the plot.

Mr. Al Jubeir called U.S. crit­i­cism of Saudi lead­er­ship “a red line.”

“I think for any­one to think they can dic­tate what we should do or what our lead­er­ship should do is pre­pos­ter­ous,” he said.

A bi­par­ti­san group of se­na­tors sent a let­ter to Mr. Trump in Oc­to­ber call­ing for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and a de­ci­sion on sanc­tions un­der the global Mag­nit­sky Hu­man Rights Act, which is aimed at pun­ish­ing for­eign govern­ment of­fi­cials for hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

The 120-day dead­line for the pres­i­dent’s re­sponse was Fri­day. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo in­stead sent a let­ter to Con­gress say­ing the pres­i­dent “main­tains his dis­cre­tion to de­cline to act on con­gres­sional com­mit­tee re­quests when ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Mr. Pom­peo noted that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has im­posed sanc­tions on the 17 Saudi na­tion­als be­lieved to be in­volved in the killing.

The top Repub­li­can on the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, joined Democrats in crit­i­ciz­ing Mr. Trump’s fail­ure to send a re­port to Con­gress. Mr. McCaul said he is “deeply trou­bled” by the ad­min­is­tra­tion ig­nor­ing the dead­line.

He said the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s let­ter doesn’t meet the law’s re­quire­ments as re­quested by com­mit­tee chair­men last Oc­to­ber, in­clud­ing then-Sen­ate For­eign Af­fairs Chair­man Bob Corker, Ten­nessee Repub­li­can.

“Ja­mal’s mur­der was ap­palling,” Mr. McCaul said. “The les­son of this ter­ri­ble event needs to be that in­tim­i­da­tion and vi­o­lence by any govern­ment against peace­ful dis­sent will be met with strong dis­ap­proval by re­spon­si­ble na­tions. Ev­ery­one in­volved in this grue­some crime must be iden­ti­fied and held ac­count­able. When the United States fails to lead, we com­pro­mise our in­tegrity and aban­don those pur­su­ing jus­tice around the world.”

Mr. Mur­phy said the law in­voked by the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee “isn’t an in­for­mal com­mit­tee re­quest.”

“The law re­quires that when the chair­man and the rank­ing mem­ber of the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee ask the pres­i­dent to make a find­ing as to a hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion over­seas, he has to re­spond,” Mr. Mur­phy said. “So [the pres­i­dent] doesn’t have an op­tion here. Now, I un­der­stand why he doesn’t want to make this de­ter­mi­na­tion. His in­tel­li­gence ser­vices are telling him that Mo­hammed bin Sal­man was re­spon­si­ble and, be­cause ei­ther of a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship he has or a busi­ness re­la­tion­ship he has with Saudi Ara­bia, he is de­clin­ing to make that find­ing to Con­gress.”


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