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How Trump turned allies into enemies over Khashoggi's murder

"There is no smoking weapon, there is a smoking saw," Sen. Lindsey Graham said, referring to allegations that Saudi activists had dismembered Khashoggi's body after killing him at the Saudi embassy in Turkey in October ,

The South Carolina Republican aims that the White House insists that US intelligence agencies have no direct evidence of the murder of Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), despite being members of his inner circle was executed. "You have to be blind on purpose to avoid coming to the conclusion that this was organized by people who were under the command of MBS."

Republican Senator Bob Corker nearby told reporters that there was "zero question in my mind" MBS stood behind the murder. "If he was in front of a jury," the Tennessee Republican said, "he would be found guilty in 30 minutes."

From the early leaks of their cruel details to President Donald Trump's muffled responses to Tuesday's full answers The Republican Senators blame the killing of Khashoggi as political mismanagement and discord. What could have been an opportunity to develop a unified American response has turned into a political dispute that the White House, the intelligence services, and the Congress have revealed.

For weeks, the Trump administration has tried to separate the Crown Prince from the government. Terrible murder It has also been attempted to conceive the broader issue as a binary decision, either consistent with the defense of Saudi Arabia or at risk risk ending relations with one of America's closest partners in the Middle East. Even for national security lovers like Lindsey Graham, who is one of the president's closest allies in Congress and himself a long-time supporter of Saudi Arabia, this was a bridge too far.

The killing of Khashoggi has also worsened tensions between the White House and Congress over America's support for the Saudi Arabian war in Yemen, which has become a full-blown humanitarian crisis, and forced a government to end the conflict to end ̵

1; and vehemently opposed the interference of Congress in the topic – on his heels.

Interviews with more than a dozen US lawmakers and intelligence officials reveal deep frustration and anger at what many describe as a kinky government response at home and abroad. a brutal murder that raises questions about the nature of the American alliance with the Saudis and the US demands for moral leadership in the world. Last week, to stem growing indignation, the White House dispatched its two most prominent Cabinet officials to Capitol Hill. But the visit of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis seemed to do more harm than good.

Instead of receiving a direct order from CIA Director Gina Haspel, the legislature received a limited version that was emphasized A technical distinction that the CIA had no direct evidence that MBS had ordered Khashoggi's assassination, although the CIA rarely included direct evidence in their appraisals.

It did not help that the legislature had woken up this morning to a hard operation. published by Pompeo in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. In it, Pompeo criticized "the Capitol Hill raid and media jam" caused by the murder and equated critics of the Saudis with supporters of President Barack Obama's Iran deal – a sentiment that "landed" according to a high-ranking GOP employee. like a lead balloon. "

The frustration led to an uprising of the two parties, all of which could be seen live on the floor of the US Senate." Minutes after Pompeo and Mattis left, a majority of senators, including 14 Republicans, voted for a resolution. to limit US support for the Saudi Arabian war in Yemen – a resolution that had failed in March and which Pompeo and Mattis had urged them to refuse.

A week later, Graham landed in the Wall Street Journal, where he received the Right of the Congress defended itself against the Government in order to "preserve the long-term interests, values ​​and reputation of the country."

"After all," Graham wrote, "someone has to do that."

Leakage and fighting

The administration has convicted her of murder and imposed sanctions against 17 people at the same time that Trump and the top government officials have left the historis He consistently quoted the alliance between the two countries and called the allegations of involvement of MBS an attack that could jeopardize the relationship. It rationalized this attitude with what it claims, streamlining the lack of a final conclusion by the CIA on the question of whether MBS directed the murder.

However, this argument has deteriorated as the details of the CIA continue to waver with the assessment of the CIA. Murder has painted an increasingly perishable image that relates to the possible involvement of the Crown Prince.

Last month, the CIA sent lawmakers to the "Gang of Eight" – the chairman and top Democrats in the two intelligence committees and the four party leaders from the House and Senate. As details became known, including that the CIA had noted with great confidence that MBS had ordered the killing, Trump's representatives and the White House accused the CIA of too many people, several US officials said. Conversely, members of the intelligence services were angry at the way Haspel gets caught up in a political struggle between the White House and Congress.

Last week, when Pompeo and Mattis visited the hill, Haspel's absence took center stage Legislators claim the White House had prevented them from appearing. The CIA issued a rare statement rejecting the statement and said, "The idea that someone told Headmaster Reel not to attend today's meeting is wrong." And several US officials pointed out that she preferred to stay out of the limelight.

Although there is no indication that the Government has explicitly told Haspel whether to participate or not, several sources have noted that the White House had done it plainly, though not directly to Reel, that they did not want to have there, and that she had little reason to push the matter forward, as she would have only damaged her reputation within the administration.

Responsible for a small group of senior senators For the direct supervision of the agency and its financier to teach them, Haspel had no choice but to sign up. Their appearance marked sharp statements from legislators who had compared their briefing favorably with what they had received from Pompeo and Mattis. Corker told CNN that Reel held the "most accurate presentation I've ever heard in 12 years."

Removal from MBS

In the run up to this briefing, the President and his associates were furious. The leaks became more and more obvious and show that the CIA has evidence that MBS and one involved in Khashoggi's murder Employees exchanged messages in the time of the murder. However, the details of these messages were not disclosed.

At the weekend's G20 summit in Argentina, the images of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rejected the young Saudi prince, were met with some satisfaction among Trump's Trump employees. The best example of what it might be So Riyadh should turn away from the United States and other repressive regimes.

Trump's encounters with MBS at the G20 were intentionally kept to a minimum. The advisors piled up the president's agenda with meetings and took little time for extended talks with the crown prince. When the two met on the sidelines of a group meeting, there was little time for detailed discussions. The discussion was warm, said a person who was familiar with it, rather than the kind of direct confrontation that French President Emmanuel Macron hired when he came across MBS at the summit.

Congress ignored

The anger of lawmakers about the Khashoggi affair is the feeling that they were ignored throughout the process. According to interviews with more than a dozen senators and adjutants, the government's refusal to defend itself when concerns about the murder and growing crisis in Yemen became central to the split. According to relief organizations, 14 million Yemenis are suffering from severe food shortages, while an estimated 85,000 children under the age of 5 have already died of starvation or disease, says Save the Children.

Corker made it clear that he had no desire to support the resolution that cut off US military aid for Saudi operations in Yemen. For days he asked the administration privately and publicly to change course. An explanation. A more active political answer. Something to send a message to the young Saudi crown prince. But nothing came. So he voted in support of the resolution, although he opposed their intention.

While Corker frequently collided with Trump, the government's accommodating attitude towards Saudi itself has made some of its strongest allies a critic. Senator Todd Young is a prime example. Young, a graduate of the Indiana Republican and Naval Academy, is known as a staunch national security hawk – and said he would recently "take a back seat as an Iranian hawk" – but for nearly two years he has been making a primary school focus on himself widening humanitarian crisis in Yemen and putting the government under pressure to change the trajectory of the conflict.

He is also known as press shy. He avoids interviewing correspondents in the hallway and rarely deals with questions unless he has a specific point.

This changed shortly before Pompeo's briefing, when Young and an aide approached a group of reporters near a camera bank and said he wanted to make a statement in front of the camera. He went instead to the Senate Hall, where he unleashed a bubbly speech.

Young pointed out that for months the government had not seriously accepted the legal obligation to recognize the Saudi Arabian Government's end to the civil war in Yemen and the resulting humanitarian crisis. The certificate submitted by the administration – which required a measure that had helped Young in the craft and legislative process – "was not credible," he said on the floor. "Despite repeated requests for answers to our questions regarding Saudi Arabia and Yemen, we have not received any response or timely responses from the administration."

Young then made a two-party follow-up letter requesting clarification from the administration about clear inconsistencies in certification. It had been ignored until the day before Pompeo's briefing, when the government, which belatedly acknowledged the anger that was in the vote of the Yemen, finally answered. As it was recorded: "It was late, and it did not respond," said Young. He would also join Corker to support the measure of Yemen, which he had previously objected to, he said.

What can Congress do?

While most of the dozen senators asked by Reel said the US would have to provide an answer to punish those involved in Khashoggi's murder, there is still no consensus to do so, or even Congress has the bandwidth to do something with teeth. The House run by the Republicans has made it clear that it will not absorb anything the Senate sends out. It takes less than a month for the current session of the Congress to take place, and the President can, of course, veto any legislative proposal that gets in his way.

Wednesday night Graham – together with Sens. Marco Rubio, Dianne Feinstein, Ed Markey, Todd Young and Chris Coons introduced a strongly worded but non-binding resolution condemning the Crown Prince for a series of actions, including the crisis in Yemen, the blockade in Qatar, the detention of dissidents and the killing of Khashoggi. The measure is a symbolic blame – and could be added to a wider package for Saudi Arabia.

"Those who claim that we must sacrifice our principles for security will not have one," said Young, a Republican from Indiana.

Graham and Young, along with Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the leading Democrat abroad The Relationship Panel urges a separate bill to demand compelling sanctions against any person responsible for Khashoggi's death, including MBS , It would also demand, among other things, a total ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used for offensive purposes – a potential hot spot for a president who has repeatedly announced arms sales to the kingdom, such as the US-Saudi relationship [19659005] Discussions are underway on whether there should be a vote in the Senate up or down for the dissolution of US support for the war in Yemen, or whether the word should be opened up for a potentially unruly change process. Corker is currently drafting an amendment that would address the Khashogi issue directly and possibly separate it from Yemen. Senate advisors say the process is fluid as Capitol Hill meetings continue behind closed doors.

The real meaning of the action of Congress, say the senators and helpers involved in the effort, is the message it sends to the world, especially as the parties in Sweden are negotiating a ceasefire. Pompeo has emphasized the importance of giving warring parties in Yemen space to negotiate rather than face the pressure of Congress. "The more support you receive, the greater the chance of ending the conflict and stopping the suffering that none of us enjoy."

Government efforts in this area were not limited to Congress alone. CNN reported last month that the US "put a brake on a UN Security Council resolution calling for a limited ceasefire in Yemen and increased humanitarian aid. and its explicit support for MBS – shows no signs of weakening, a calculation defined by the long-standing relationship and its value for countering enemies like Iran. The past few weeks have shown that it is an attitude, even if it is so strong that it could be costly. Some of Capitol Hill's brave Trump supporters have already broken with the president and his cabinet on this issue. Graham, a Trump Golf partner and vocal proponent of the president and his top lieutenants, went so far as to accuse Pompeo and Matti of deliberate ignorance. "I think the reason they do not conclude that (MBS) is an accomplice is because the administration does not want to go that route."

CNNs Kevin Liptak and Manu Raju contributed to this report.

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