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US lawmakers renew push for penalties against Saudi Arabia

February 8, 2019 at 3:33 am

Republican and Democratic US lawmakers renewed their push on Thursday to penalise Saudi Arabia for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, introducing legislation to bar some arms sales and impose sanctions on those responsible for his death, Reuters reports.

Democrats Bob Menendez, Jack Reed, Jeanne Shaheen and Chris Murphy and Republicans Todd Young, Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins introduced the bill one day before the Feb. 8 deadline for President Donald Trump’s administration to submit a report to Congress on whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

Congressional aides said they had been not indicated that the administration would meet that deadline. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, a United Nations-led inquiry into the Khashoggi’s murder said on Thursday that evidence pointed to a brutal crime “planned and perpetrated” by Saudi officials.

READ: UN begins inquiry into Khashoggi murder

Among other things, the “Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2019” would impose mandatory sanctions on anyone found responsible for the death of Khashoggi, a US resident and columnist for the Washington Post.

Menendez, Graham and other lawmakers had tried to pass similar legislation last year, during the previous Congress, but it failed to advance. The Senate did unanimously pass a resolution blaming bin Salman for Khashoggi’s killing and a measure that would have barred US support for the Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen.

However, the Republicans who then led the House of Representatives did not allow a vote on the legislation.

Trump has resisted legislative efforts to rebuke the Saudis, pointing to weapons sales as an important source of US jobs. His administration is also reluctant to disturb the strategic relationship with the kingdom, seen as an important regional counterbalance to Iran, arch-rival of US ally Israel.

READ: Evidence shows Khashoggi murder planned, carried out by Saudi officials

Graham, a close Trump ally who nonetheless has led the push for a strong response to Saudi Arabia, said he expected strong bipartisan support for “serious sanctions.”

“While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behaviour of the Crown Prince – in multiple ways – has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic,” Graham said in a statement.

I fully realise we have to deal with bad actors and imperfect situations on the international stage. However, when we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset

Graham added.

Democrats now control the House and have been more open to legislation penalising Saudi Arabia. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on relations with Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, where he opened the door to new restrictions on weapons exports to the kingdom.

Besides putting new limits on weapons sales, the Senate legislation announced on Thursday would bar US refuelling of aircraft for the Saudi-led coalition engaged in the civil war in Yemen.

People inspect the wreckage of a collapsed building after an air strike was carried out by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen [Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency]

People inspect the wreckage of a collapsed building after an air strike was carried out by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen [Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency]

It would also impose sanctions on anyone blocking humanitarian assistance in Yemen, sanction anyone supporting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels fighting Yemen’s internationally recognised government, demand “an accountability report” for anyone involved in the Yemen conflict who commits war crimes and mandate a report on human rights in Saudi Arabia.

“Seeing as the Trump Administration has no intention of insisting on full accountability for Mr Khashoggi’s murderers, it is time for Congress to step in and impose real consequences to reexamine our relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia fundamentally and with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen,” Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.