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US senator 'very wary' of signing a defence pact with Saudi Arabia

Chris Murphy questions if Riyadh is 'the kind of stable regime that we should commit American blood to defending'
Senator Chris Murphy speaks to reporters outside of the Senate Chambers of the US Capitol on 21 June 2022 in Washington.
Senator Chris Murphy speaks to reporters outside of the Senate Chambers of US Capitol, on 21 June 2022 in Washington (AFP)

US Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and vocal critic of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has expressed concerns about potentially offering the kingdom a mutual defence pact in exchange for the normalisation of ties between Riyadh and Israel.

Murphy said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday that while he was supportive of brokering an agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, questions remain about the price Washington is willing to pay for it.

“I would be very wary of committing the United States, through a treaty, to the defence of Saudi Arabia," Murphy said. "Is this the kind of stable regime that we should commit American blood to defending?" 

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the US and Saudi Arabia were discussing the details of a mutual defence pact, and Washington was considering modelling the treaty after similar ones with Japan and South Korea.

The agreement would see the US and Saudi Arabia pledge to provide military support to the other if the country is attacked in the region or within Saudi territory.

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Murphy's concerns include the murder of Washington Post and Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen. Murphy was a co-sponsor of a War Powers Resolution calling for the US to end its support for the war in Yemen.

Biden entered presidential office promising to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah" state for its role in the gruesome killing of Khashoggi. But since then, it has worked to mend relations with the kingdom, as Washington is looking to shore up relations with countries amid rising competition with Russia and China.

In order for a defence treaty to be ratified by the US, it would need to be approved with a two-thirds majority in the Senate. This means the treaty would need at least 67 votes of approval to pass.

'Saudis are not looking out for us'

In the past several years, a majority of senators from both sides of the political aisle have voted in favour of restricting US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and in favour of ending American support for the Saudi-led coalition's war efforts in Yemen.

In addition to Murphy's opposition, several senators, namely Richard Blumenthal, are looking to probe a recent deal made between Saudi-backed LIV Golf and the PGA Tour.

Alongside Blumenthal, Senator Ron Johnson called on the Biden administration to provide them with the full records regarding Saudi Arabia's alleged role in the 9/11 attacks. Riyadh denies being involved in the attacks.

Murphy has been one of the leading Senate voices critical of Saudi Arabia in recent years. In 2022, he stressed, in light of Saudi Arabia's decision to cut oil production against American wishes, the need for a comprehensive reform in the US-Saudi relationship.

Riyadh's move was seen by Washington as aligning with Russia.

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"For years, we have looked the other way as Saudi Arabia has chopped up journalists, has engaged in massive political repression," he told CNN in 2022.

"They chose to back up the Russians, drive up oil prices, which could have the potential to fracture our Ukraine coalition, and there's got to be consequences for that…So I just think it's time to admit that the Saudis are not looking out for us."

Earlier this year, Murphy introduced a resolution that would, if it passes, require the Biden administration to report on Saudi Arabia's human rights record and possibly cut off all US security assistance to the kingdom.

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