Senators seek yet another way to cool US-Saudi relations

Senators seek yet another way to cool US-Saudi relations

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U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander, U.S. Central Command, welcomes His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Salman, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to the U.S., to USCENTCOM headquarters, July 31, 2018 (U.S. Air Force photo by TSgt. Dana Flamer)

WASHINGTON — Five senators have asked the White House to cease civilian nuclear energy talks with Saudi Arabia as one response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The request, made in a letter to President Donald Trump, is the latest reflection on Capitol Hill of animus toward Saudi Arabia. That pushback is fueled by a range of issues, from longstanding misgivings about Riyadh’s role in the September 11 attacks to today’s Saudi war effort in Yemen, which aid groups call the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, analysts say.

Khashoggi’s killing, which Saudi Arabia has acknowledged, have given new impetus to senators wishing to recalibrate the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

“The ongoing revelations about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as certain Saudi actions related to Yemen and Lebanon, have raised further serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decision-makers in Saudi Arabia,” the senators wrote in the letter made public on Wednesday.

The quintet, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said they would employ the Atomic Energy Act to thwart any nuclear agreements between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia if President Trump declined to halt the nuclear talks, according to the letter.

The letter was first reported by NBC News. It was posted on Rubio’s official website.

The senators asked that talks be suspended “for the foreseeable future,” according to the letter. Joining Rubio on the letter were Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.).

Saudi Arabia’s official position has churned from initially denying any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and apparent murder to admitting the slaying was premeditated.

In a second letter sent to Trump, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.,) urged the White House to revoke any approvals for the transfer of nuclear services, technology or assistance to Saudi Arabia, as well as freezing the nuclear talks.

“Given the recent behavior and actions of senior leaders within the government of Saudi Arabia, it is clear that any nuclear cooperation with the Kingdom is inimical to U.S. interests and values at present,” Markey wrote in his letter Wednesday. It was posted on his official website.

In October, 25 senators made a bipartisan request to Trump to launch an investigation and Global Magnitsky sanctions determination regarding the disappearance of Khashoggi.

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