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Pompeo: Downgrading US ties to Saudi Arabia would be a mistake

Top Trump officials hold closed-door briefing with senators about US response to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s murder. NEWS / UNITED STATES

US Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were briefing the US Senate behind closed doors on Wednesday [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that downgrading US ties with Saudi Arabia would be a mistake for national security and would not push Saudis in a better direction at home.

Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis were briefing the US Senate behind closed doors about Saudi Arabia and the October 2 killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as well as the war in Yemen.

“The October murder of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading US-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the US and its allies,” Pompeo wrote in a blog post shortly before the briefing for US senators.

Pompeo made the case that the Saudis are too important an ally to lose, citing its help to contain Iran in the region, secure democracy in Iraq and fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and other armed groups.

“The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East,” he wrote. “Saudi Arabia, like the US – and unlike these critics – recognises the immense threat the Islamic Republic of Iran poses to the world.”

During Wednesday’s briefing, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said “security interests cannot be dismissed as as [the US] seeks accountability … for Khashoggi’s murder”, according to remarks sent to reporters.

“I must note we are seldom free to work with unblemished partners,” he added.

US support for the war has come under increased scrutiny since Khashoggi’s murder.

After offering several contradicting accounts, Saudi Arabia admitted last month that Khashoggi had been killed in its Istanbul consulate on October 2 and his body dismembered.

Riyadh has said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, had no knowledge of the killing, which Turkey said was ordered at the highest level of Saudi leadership. Erdogan ruled out King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, however.

The murder has strained relations between Saudi Arabia and several other countries, with rights groups and several US politicians calling for Prince Mohammed to be held to account.

Some kind of response’ needed

Wednesday’s briefing could determine if and how far Congress goes in punishing the longtime US ally in the Mideast.

According to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “some kind of response” is needed from the United States for the Saudis’ role in the murder.

US intelligence agencies have reportedly told President Donald Trump Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was personally involved in the death.

Last month, the US placed economic sanctions on 17 Saudi nationals allegedly involved in Khashoggi’s murder.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan said on Wednesday that he has asked the Trump administration to brief Congress about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the next week or two.

“It’s very important, I think, that we speak with moral clarity … and with respect to holding people accountable, we need to do that,” Ryan told reporters at the US Capitol.

“We have actually requested (for) the administration to come and give a briefing to all members of Congress,” he added. “That means there’s more to find out and more to do on it.”

Shortly before Wednesday’s briefing, Pompeo also announced an additional $131m in additional humanitarian aid for Yemen, which has been struck by food and medicine shortages since the war in Yemen began in 2015.

The war in Yemen began in September 2014, when Houthi rebels took control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and proceeded to push southwards towards the country’s second-biggest city, Aden.

In response, a Saudi-UAE military coalition, backed by the US, intervened in 2015 with a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

According to aid groups, tens of thousands of people have been killed in the war, and according to Save the Children, as many as 85,000 children under five “may have died from extreme hunger” or disease since 2015.


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