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US Senate says Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi murder

Trump has downplayed MbS' involvement in the murder of the journalist [AFP]

Date of publication: 14 December, 2018

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The US Senate said the Saudi crown prince is 'responsible' for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is 'responsible' for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the US Senate agreed on Thursday after a vote that is expected to send a strong message to the White House.

US intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known of the plot, but President Donald Trump has been reluctant to pin the blame.

Senators voted 60-39 on Wednesday to open debate on the Yemen resolution, signalling there is enough support to win the 50 votes needed. 

While enough Republicans support the resolution, which was sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and most other Republicans oppose it.

"I think every single member of this body shares grave concerns about the murder of Khashoggi and wants accountability," McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.

"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."

US senators furious over Khashoggi murder

Senators have been enraged by Khashoggi's October killing and the White House response, and that outrage prompted several Republicans to support the Yemen resolution because it would be seen as a rebuke to the long-time ally.

Others already had concerns about the war in Yemen, which human rights groups say is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians, many of them children, to indiscriminate bombing and disease.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, is preparing the separate, alternate resolution condemning the journalist's killing.

McConnell urged senators to vote for Corker's measure, which he said "does a good job capturing bipartisan concerns about both the war in Yemen and the behaviour of our Saudi partners more broadly." Corker has not released the full text of that resolution.

CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed House leaders on the Khashoggi slaying on Wednesday, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis are scheduled to brief the full House on Thursday.

Pompeo and Mattis briefed the Senate last month and told senators that there was "no direct reporting" or "smoking gun" to connect the crown prince to Khashoggi's death at a Saudi consulate in Turkey. 

But a smaller group of senators leaving a separate briefing with Haspel days later said there was "zero chance" the crown prince wasn’t involved.

"Just because you're our ally, you can't kill with impunity," top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, said.

"The current relationship with Saudi Arabia is not working," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who supports Menendez's measure and is expected to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2019. 

"You're never going to have a relationship with the United States Senate unless things change."

On Wednesday, the US ambassador to the United Nations, who has announced she would be leaving her post, blamed the powerful crown prince for the murder, breaking with the position of her boss Donald Trump.

Nikki Haley made the accusation against Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) in a tell-all interview with NBC.

"It was the Saudi government, and MBS is the head of the Saudi government," Haley said when asked about Khashoggi's murder.

"So they are all responsible, and they don't get a pass, not an individual, not the government - they don't get a pass," she added.

The comments come as US President Donald Trump said he would continue to stand by the crown prince despite increasing pressure from US authorities, including the CIA and a number of senators.

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