Fri, Nov 30, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Senators send rebuke to Saudis, Trump

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT:More Republicans than expected voted to push a resolution calling for an end to US involvement in the war in Yemen to a Senate floor debate


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with red tie, speaks to reporters at the US Capitol in Washington after briefing members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP

Defying US President Donald Trump, senators sent a strong signal that they want to punish Saudi Arabia for its role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

By a bipartisan 63-37 vote, the US Senate opted to move forward with legislation calling for an end to US involvement in the Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen.

The vote on Wednesday was a rebuke not only to Saudi Arabia, but also to Trump’s administration, which has made clear it does not want to torpedo the long-standing US relationship with Riyadh over the killing.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis went to Capitol Hill to lobby against the resolution, which would call for an end to US military assistance for the conflict that human rights advocates say is wreaking havoc on Yemen and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing.

The vote showed a significant number of Republicans were willing to break with Trump to express their deep dissatisfaction with Saudi Arabia and with the US response to Khashoggi’s brutal killing in Turkey last month.

US intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known of the plot, but Trump has equivocated over who was to blame.

Khashoggi, who lived in the US and wrote for the Washington Post, was publicly critical of the prince.

He was killed in what US officials have described as an elaborate plot at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, which he had visited for marriage paperwork.

Echoing Trump’s public comments on the killing, Pompeo said after Wednesday’s briefing with senators that there was “no direct reporting” connecting the prince to the murder.

Mattis said there was “no smoking gun” making the connection.

Pompeo said that the war in Yemen would be “a hell of a lot worse” if the US were not involved.

Wednesday’s procedural vote sets up a floor debate on the resolution next week.

However, it would be largely a symbolic move, as House Republican leaders have given no indication they would take up the war powers measure before the end of the year — the end of the current Congress.

Several senators said they were angry about the absence of CIA Director Gina Haspel from the briefing.

US Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, speculated that Haspel did not attend because she “would have said with a high degree of confidence that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”

US Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is often strongly allied with Trump, voted to move forward with the resolution and said he would insist on a briefing from Haspel.

He even threatened to withhold his vote on key measures if that did not happen and said: “I’m not going to blow past this.”

However, CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett said that no one had kept Haspel away from the committee briefing.

The CIA had already briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate leaders, and “will continue to provide updates on this important matter to policymakers and Congress,” he said.

A White House official said Haspel decided not to participate in part because of frustration with lawmakers leaking classified intelligence from such settings. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

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