Khashoggi killing: Trump rebuked for 'dishonest' statement backing MBS

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US lawmakers, journalists and others have condemned the White House for saying it will continue to support Riyadh despite journalist's murder

Trump said Washington plans to stand by Saudi Arabia amid the Khashoggi crisis (Reuters/File photo)
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Wednesday 21 November 2018 7:56 UTC
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United States lawmakers, journalists and others have denounced President Donald Trump's decision to stand by Saudi Arabia despite the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

In a statement on Tuesday, Trump said he intends to maintain Washington's strong ties to Saudi leaders, including the country's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite the "unacceptable and horrible crime" committed against Khashoggi.

Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan called Trump's comments a "betrayal" of American values, accusing the president of putting his personal relationships and "commercial interests" above US interests.

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US will stand by Saudi Arabia despite Khashoggi murder, Trump says

Ryan said the White House should make public any evidence it may have that would contradict an earlier CIA conclusion that bin Salman ordered the assassination of Khashoggi.

"An innocent man, brutally slain, deserves better, as does the cause of truth and justice and human rights," Ryan said in a statement Tuesday.

He also called on the US Congress to act where Trump has apparently failed. "In this failure of leadership from President Trump, it now falls to Congress to stand up for America’s true values and lasting interests," Ryan said.

Washington Post editor Karen Attiah, who edited Khashoggi's columns at the newspaper, called the White House's statement "juvenile" and "clumsy".

She also condemned the US president for repeating a "Saudi lie" in his statement, which Trump used to convey Saudi assertions that Khashoggi was "an enemy of the state" and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, claims the journalist's family has refuted as baseless.

In a column published on Tuesday afternoon, Attiah went on to say that Trump's handling of the crisis emboldens repression and endangers journalists around the world.

"If the administration continues down this path, it will further destroy whatever is left of America’s moral credibility on global human rights and freedom of expression," she wrote. "It puts truth-seekers and journalists who dare challenge the Saudi regime and other intolerant governments in grave danger, no matter where they live."

US lawmakers call for MBS to be held accountable

Several members of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate also expressed their dismay at the president's vow to stand alongside Saudi Arabia despite Khashoggi's killing.

Bob Corker, the retiring Republican chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, accused Trump of acting like a public relations agent for the Saudi government.

The incoming US House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, said Trump's statement harms Washington's standing in the world.

"To say 'maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,' or that we are incapable of finding out the truth, or that knowing the truth our silence can be bought with arms sales, undermines the Presidency, credibility of our intelligence professionals, and our role as a champion of human rights," the congressman said on Twitter.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said she was "shocked" by the president's decision not to impose consequences on the Saudi crown prince, also known as MBS, for the murder.

The United States should consider sanctions against the crown prince and ... the Saudi ambassador to the United States should not be allowed to continue in that role

- US Senator Dianne Feinstein

"I plan to vote against any future arms sales and appropriation to Saudi Arabia. I also believe that the United States should consider sanctions against the crown prince and that the Saudi ambassador to the United States should not be allowed to continue in that role," Feinstein said in a statement.

Left-wing Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also condemned Trump's "rambling and dishonest" statement.

Sanders dismissed the White House's assertion that Tehran, not Riyadh, is to blame for the war in Yemen.

"Trump is clearly very afraid of the prospect of the Senate delivering a serious rebuke to his policy by voting to end U.S. support for the Yemen war. But that is exactly what we will do when we vote on SJ Res 54 next week," Sanders wrote on Twitter.

Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said although international diplomacy requires dealing with "bad actors and imperfect situations," the US should not lose its "moral voice" at the world stage.

"While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of the Crown Prince – in multiple ways – has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic," Graham wrote on Twitter.

"I firmly believe there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilized norms."

Saudi officials have repeatedly denied that the crown prince had any knowledge of the plan to murder Khashoggi or cover up the crime. Still, human rights groups, journalists, UN experts and others have pointed the finger at MBS, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, saying it's impossible the crown prince was not involved.

Former CIA chief John Brennan, meanwhile, urged the US intelligence agency to release its finding on the murder, criticising Trump's dishonesty.

"Since Mr. Trump excels in dishonesty, it is now up to members of Congress to obtain & declassify the CIA findings on Jamal Khashoggi’s death. No one in Saudi Arabia - most especially the Crown Prince - should escape accountability for such a heinous act," he wrote on Twitter.

Brennan has been an outspoken critic of Trump, and previously had his security clearance revoked by the White House.

Iran's foreign minister weighs in

Trump also used his statement on Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia Tuesday to criticise the Iranian government, saying strong ties between Washington and Riyadh were necessary in "the fight against Iran".

Shortly after the US president's comments were made public, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Trump's decision to bring Tehran into the crisis was "shameful".

"Mr. Trump bizarrely devotes the FIRST paragraph of his shameful statement on Saudi atrocities to accuse IRAN of every sort of malfeasance he can think of," Zarif wrote on Twitter.

Zarif then made a dig at Trump's suggestion - which came over the weekend after a massive, deadly wildfire ravaged parts of California - that Finland prevents wildfires by raking leaves.

"Perhaps we’re also responsible for the California fires, because we didn’t help rake the forests - just like the Finns do?" the Iranian foreign minister asked sarcastically.