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MBS responsible for Khashoggi murder, US Senate unanimously finds

US Senate 'believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi', motion states
Resolution, introduced on Thursday, also calls for solution to Yemen conflict (AFP/File photo)

WASHINGTON DC - In another symbolic rebuke of Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince, the US Senate has unanimously adopted a new resolution to hold Mohammed bin Salman accountable for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Proposed by US Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker on Thursday, the motion states that the US Senate "believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi".

Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top lawmaker in the Senate, said the motion sends a "clear and unambiguous message" of the senators' beliefs about who is responsible for the killing of the Saudi dissident.

Corker added that the Senate has unanimously said that it believes bin Salman is responsible for killing Khashoggi.

'Zero question' MBS directed Khashoggi murder, US senators say
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The measure is not only a sharp rebuke of bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, but also a public critique of US President Donald Trump's vow to stand by Saudi Arabia and MBS despite Khashoggi’s killing.

A Washington Post columnist who was critical of the kingdom's policies, Khashoggi was killed by Saudi government agents linked to the crown prince inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

The CIA concluded last month that MBS ordered the assassination, but Riyadh denies the crown prince was involved. The kingdom has arrested 21 people in connection to the murder and says prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five suspects.

'Appropriate accountability'

Still, that has left many unconvinced, including Corker, who has been at the forefront of the congressional voices calling for greater accountability in the aftermath of the murder.

Corker's Senate motion blames MBS for Khashoggi's murder, urges the Saudi government to ensure "appropriate accountability" for all those responsible, calls on Riyadh to release Saudi women's rights activists and encourages the kingdom to increase efforts to enact economic and social reforms.

The resolution also calls for a political solution to the conflict in Yemen, which has been plunged into a dire humanitarian crisis as a result of Saudi Arabia's war against the Houthi rebels there.

It also warns that the kingdom's purchases of military equipment from, and cooperation with, the governments of Russia and China, challenge the integrity of the US-Saudi military relationship.

Earlier motion also seeks to condemn MBS

Corker's motion was one of several bills that have been working their way through the Congress that aim to condemn Saudi Arabia for its domestic and regional policies.

Earlier on Thursday, the Senate passed a resolution that would force Trump to end US involvement in the ongoing conflict in Yemen because it has not been approved by Congress.

Last week, a group of senior US senators also introduced a separate resolution denouncing MBS for his role in Khashoggi’s murder.

That motion, co-sponsored by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, among others, states that the US Senate has a "high level of confidence" that the crown prince was complicit in the "abhorrent and unjustified" murder of Khashoggi.

Donald Trump has vowed to stand by MBS despite the Khashoggi murder (AFP/File photo)

It also condemns MBS for Saudi Arabia’s role in the war in Yemen, the ongoing blockade of Qatar, the detention and torture of dissidents inside the Gulf kingdom and the use of force against some of the crown prince’s rivals.

The resolution was criticised by some observers for being without teeth, as it did not prescribe any legal consequences for MBS or other Saudi leaders.

Pompeo and Mattis brief House members

As international outrage has increased over the situation in Yemen, senior members of the Trump administration have sought to convince US lawmakers to vote against efforts to end Washington's support for the Saudi-led coalition.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis briefed lawmakers from the US House of Representatives on that US support for Saudi-led forces in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia launched a military offensive there in 2015 to root out Yemeni Houthi rebels and restore its ally, Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, to power.

In a closed-door meeting, Mattis and Pompeo asked House representatives “to continue the military advising, logistics support and intelligence that have for years been shared with Saudi Arabia,” the New York Times reported.

'Zero question' MBS directed Khashoggi murder, US senators say
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The briefing was panned by some politicians, including Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, who described it as “a colossal waste of time,” the Times reported.

“They have to be held responsible,” said Eliot Engel, the incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, referring to the Saudi leadership, as he came out of the briefing.

Republican Congressman Adam Kinzing told reporters that the Khashoggi murder was reprehensible, but he questioned whether the US should completely realign its foreign policy in the Middle East.

“We recognise killing journalists is absolutely evil and despicable, but to completely realign our interests in the Middle East as a result of this, when for instance the Russians kill journalists…Turkey imprisons journalists?” he said, as reported by the Washington Post. “It’s not a sinless world out there.”

Mattis and Pompeo have both disputed the CIA's conclusion that MBS ordered Khashoggi’s murder and the senior officials held a similar briefing on the case and the Saudi-US relationship with members of the Senate last week.

CIA Director Gina Haspel has also briefed members of both chambers of Congress on the Khashoggi case.

Despite the claims from the Trump administration, several US senators emerged from the meeting with Haspel last week saying they were more certain than ever that the Saudi crown prince ordered the journalist’s killing.

“The relationship with the crown prince is so toxic, so tainted, so flawed that I can’t ever see myself doing business with Saudi Arabia in the future unless there is change there,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters this week.