Republican Senator Marco Rubio has rebuked the Trump White House over its handling of the Jamal Khashoggi affair after it was reported that Jared Kushner had counselled Mohammed bin Salman over the fallout from the journalist’s murder.
“We don’t need direct evidence that [the Saudi crown prince] ordered the code red on this thing,” Marco Rubio said.
Khashoggi, a journalist and critic of the Saudi regime, was a Saudi national resident in the US who wrote for the Washington Post. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. His body is believed to have been dismembered.
Citing the importance of the Saudis as allies, and standing contrary to the conclusions of the CIA, Donald Trump and his aides have steadfastly refused to say Prince Mohammed was responsible for Khashoggi’s death. The White House has levied sanctions against 17 Saudi individuals deemed to have been involved.
Prince Mohammed is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. Its government has given contradictory explanations for the death and denied the prince knew of it.
Rubio, a member of the Senate foreign relations committee, spoke to CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. He said: “The bottom line is that there is no way that 17 people close to [Prince Mohammed] got a charter plane, flew to a third country, went into a consulate, killed and chopped up a man and flew back, and he didn’t know about it, much less order it.”
He added: “[Saudi Arabia] is not a de-centralised country. That in a country like that, a man with his power, his influence and his control did not know it and did not order, it’s just not believable.”
Rubio backed a Senate resolution on the matter that was introduced on Wednesday. The other Republican sponsors were Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Todd Young of Indiana. The Democrats were Dianne Feinstein of California, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Chris Coons of Delaware.
The resolution says Prince Mohammed is “complicit” in and should be “held accountable” for the “abhorrent and unjustified murder”. It also says the prince has contributed to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the blockade of Qatar and the “jailing and torture of dissidents and activists”.
On Saturday, a sweeping New York Times report said Kushner, senior adviser to his father-in-law, the president, had become “the prince’s most important defender inside the White House”.
The administration has acknowledged one call between the two men since Khashoggi’s disappearance, on 9 October and joined by national security adviser John Bolton. Citing “American officials and a Saudi briefed on their conversations”, the Times said Kushner and Prince Mohammed have “continued to chat informally”.
Citing the unnamed Saudi source, the paper said, “Kushner has offered the crown prince advice about how to weather the storm, urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments”.
Rubio was asked if such White House behaviour constituted a defence of American values. He said he couldn’t say if the Times story was accurate, but added: “This story is as much about America as it is about Khashoggi. Obviously what happened to that man was terrible, but it’s also about who we are as a nation.
“This is a crown prince that is a reckless individual,” he said. “He’s going to continue to test the boundaries of what he can get away with internationally and within our alliance, until those boundaries are set.”
He added: “As a nation we cannot say that if our allies do something horrifying, we’re going to look away.”
In an interview with the Atlantic published on Friday, the outgoing United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley said the US would not give the Saudis “a pass” and said that as Prince Mohammed’s “government did this … so he technically is responsible”. She added that “the administration needs to decide” what steps it will take.
On Sunday, Rubio was asked if he thought Haley’s nominated replacement, former Fox News host and state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, was qualified for such a senior job.
He told CBS’s Face the Nation he thought “she has the ability to do the job well”. But he added: “Does she have detailed knowledge of foreign policy to a level that will allow her to be successful at the United Nations? I don’t know.”
– Martin Pengelly I The Guardian