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Senate Rebukes Trump, Saudi Arabia     12/14 06:21

   In back-to-back votes against Saudi Arabia, the Senate delivered an unusual 
rebuke of President Donald Trump's response to the death of journalist Jamal 
Khashoggi and signaled new skepticism from Capitol Hill toward the longtime 
Middle East ally.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- In back-to-back votes against Saudi Arabia, the Senate 
delivered an unusual rebuke of President Donald Trump's response to the death 
of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and signaled new skepticism from Capitol Hill 
toward the longtime Middle East ally.

   Although the resolutions are largely symbolic --- because it's unclear if 
they will be considered by the House --- passage Thursday showed senators 
seeking to assert oversight of Trump administration foreign policy and the 
relationship with Saudi Arabia.

   It also marked the collapse of the Trump administration's effort in the 
Senate to contain fallout from the gruesome killing.

   One measure recommended that the U.S. end its assistance to Saudi Arabia for 
the war in Yemen. The other put the blame for the death of Khashoggi squarely 
on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Both had been vigorously opposed by 
the Trump administration and threatened with a presidential veto. Top brass was 
on Capitol Hill ahead of voting to prevent further action in the House.

   "The current relationship with Saudi Arabia is not working," said Sen. 
Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who opposed the Yemen resolution but called the crown 
prince "so toxic, so tainted, so flawed" after the Khashoggi's killing that 
"you're never going to have a relationship with the United States Senate unless 
things change."

   The bipartisan votes came two months after the Saudi journalist's slaying at 
the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and after Trump persistently equivocated over 
who was responsible. U.S. intelligence officials concluded that bin Salman must 
have at least known of the plot, but Trump has repeatedly praised the kingdom.

   Senators made clear where they put the blame. The resolution, passed by 
unanimous agreement, says the Senate believes the crown prince is "responsible 
for the murder" and calls for the Saudi Arabian government to "ensure 
appropriate accountability."

   Senators voted 56-41 to recommend that the U.S. stop supporting the war in 
Yemen, a direct affront to the administration's war powers abilities.

   Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who co-sponsored the Yemen 
resolution with Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, called passage a "historic 
moment."

   Lee said Khashoggi's death focused attention "on the fact that we have been 
led into this civil war in Yemen half a world away" and "we've done so 
following the lead" of Saudi Arabia.

   "What the Khashoggi event did was to demonstrate, hey, maybe this isn't a 
regime that we should just be following that eagerly into battle," Lee said.

   As Senate approval loomed, the administration dispatched Secretary of State 
Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to the House to make the case 
against the resolutions and warn of damage they could do to the U.S.-Saudi 
relationship. A congressional aide and an administration official said their 
appearance was aimed at stopping any House action on the resolutions.

   Pompeo and Mattis had made a similar entreaty to the Senate late last month. 
But it was roundly panned by senators angered by the secretaries' refusal to 
accept a CIA determination that assessed the crown prince had ordered 
Khashoggi's murder.

   CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed House leaders Wednesday on the Khashoggi 
slaying.

   The journalist, who had lived in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, 
had been critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed in what U.S. officials 
have described as an elaborate plot as he visited the consulate for marriage 
paperwork.

   Saudi prosecutors have said a 15-man team sent to Istanbul killed Khashoggi 
and then dismembered his body, which has not been found. Those findings came 
after Saudi authorities spent weeks denying Khashoggi had been killed in the 
consulate.

   Trump has been reluctant to condemn the crown prince. He said the United 
States "intends to remain a steadfast partner" of the country, touted Saudi 
arms deals worth billions of dollars to the U.S. and thanked the Saudis for 
plunging oil prices.

   But Graham and Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations 
Committee, have rejected Trump's economic arguments. They are setting the stage 
for legislation next year that goes further in halting arms sales and taking 
other measures.

   Menendez says economic concerns do not overpower human rights and the U.S. 
must send a "global message that killing with impunity" will not be tolerated.

   Frustration with the crown prince and the White House prompted several 
Republicans to support the Yemen resolution. Seven Republicans and all 
Democrats voted for it. Some already had concerns about the war, which human 
rights groups say is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians, 
many of them children, to deadly disease and indiscriminate bombing.

   The resolution condemning Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi's slaying was from 
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker and Senate Majority Leader Mitch 
McConnell. Both Republicans opposed the Yemen resolution and voted against it.

   McConnell said senators have grave concerns about Khashoggi's killing, but 
"we also want to preserve a 70-year partnership between the United States and 
Saudi Arabia, and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests 
and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region."

   But McConnell encouraged passage of the Khashoggi resolution and said it 
provided "a clear and unambiguous message about how we feel about what happened 
to this journalist."

   The Senate debate came as the United Nations secretary general on Thursday 
announced that Yemen's warring sides have agreed to a province-wide cease-fire 
and withdrawal of troops in Hodeida, a contested Red Sea port city. The 
agreement came during peace talks in Sweden.

   The brutal four-year-old civil war pits the internationally recognized 
Yemeni government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, against the Iran-backed 
rebels known as Houthis.


(KA)

 
 
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