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US senators push motion to condemn Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi murder

Resolution would denounce Mohammed bin Salman for his role in Jamal Khashoggi's killing, but does not impose any sanctions on MBS
Bill says US Senate has 'high level of confidence' MBS was complicit in Khashoggi's murder (AFP)

Senior US senators introduced a resolution denouncing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as the war in Yemen and Riyadh's diplomatic standoff with Qatar.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, an ally of President Donald Trump who has been critical of the White House's handling of the Khashoggi crisis, pushed the resolution forward.

The measure, proposed on Wednesday, states that the US Senate has a "high level of confidence" that the crown prince, known as MBS, was complicit in the "abhorrent and unjustified" murder of Khashoggi.

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It also calls for holding MBS accountable "for contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, preventing a resolution to the blockade of Qatar, the jailing and torture of dissidents and activists inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia [and] the use of force to intimidate rivals".

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was critical of the kingdom's policies, was killed by Saudi government agents linked to the crown prince inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October after he went there to retrieve personal documents.

The Senate resolution notes that Khashoggi was a US resident at the time of his murder and his three children are US citizens.

The measure also cites the initial insistence from Saudi officials that Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed - statements that proved to be false.

"Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, stated that 'the reports that suggest that Jamal Khashoggi went missing in the Consulate in Istanbul or that the Kingdom’s authorities have detained him or killed him are absolutely false, and baseless,'" the resolution reads.

MBS's brother, Khalid returned to Washington earlier this week despite calls to bar him from the US. The Washington Post previously reported that Khalid called Khashoggi and told the journalist that he could go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he was killed. The ambassador denied this claim.

Motion is 'toothless'

Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein, Ed Markey and Chris Coons, and Republicans Marco Rubio and Todd Young joined Graham in sponsoring the resolution.

The bill needs a simple majority to pass, but it is largely symbolic as it does not impose any sanctions or legal repercussions on MBS or Saudi Arabia more generally.

Karen Attiah, a Washington Post editor who worked closely with Khashoggi, called the non-binding resolution "toothless" in a tweet.

There have been growing calls in the US for Congress to take a strong stance against the Saudi crown prince, amid the White House's apparent refusal to implicate bin Salman, a close Trump ally, in the murder.

The Senate bill also urges the Saudis to negotiate directly with Yemen's Houthi rebels to address the humanitarian crisis in the war-ravaged country. Saudi Arabia launched a military offensive in Yemen in 2015 to push back the Houthis and restore Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to power.

It also calls on Riyadh to find a political solution to its feud with Doha. Saudi Arabia and its allies have boycotted Qatar since June 2017, imposing a land, air and sea blockade on the small Gulf nation, which they have accused of supporting terrorism. Qatar has denied that accusation.

The US Senate bill says the Qatar blockade has hindered Washington's "counterterrorism and counter-Iran objectives" in the region.

Moreover, the resolution criticises the crown prince's domestic policies, accusing him of frequently disregarding the rights of Saudi citizens "in an effort to consolidate his personal control over Saudi government decision-making".

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