Congress to investigate relationship between US and Saudi Arabia

Intelligence committee to examine US agencies’ assessment of murder of journalist

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photograph: Amir Levy/Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photograph: Amir Levy/Reuters

 

The United States Congress intends to investigate the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia next year, the incoming head of the House intelligence committee has said, amid widespread concern at President Donald Trump’s decision to effectively side with the Saudis over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Adam Schiff, who is expected to become the chairman of the House intelligence committee in January, told the Washington Post that the committee would examine US intelligence agencies’ assessment of the murder of the US resident in October, as well as the Saudi regime’s treatment of dissidents more generally.

It will also probe the ongoing war in Yemen, a conflict which has come under renewed scrutiny since the death of Khashoggi, given Saudi Arabia’s central role in the war.

Mr Schiff also indicated that the House would examine Mr Trump’s financial and business links with Saudi Arabia.

The move to hold Mr Trump accountable over Saudi Arabia comes as Democrats prepare to assume a majority in the House of Representatives from January.

‘Steadfast partner’

Mr Trump baffled many this week when he said that America would remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia, despite international outrage over the presumed involvement of the Saudi royal family and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in his murder.

While Mr Trump indicated that the crown prince may have known about the plan to murder the dissident, he pointed out that Saudi Arabia had been “a great ally” in America’s fight against Iran.

The president doubled down on this position in comments to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Thursday, when he suggested that the CIA had not concluded that the crown prince had been responsible for the murder.

“They have feelings certain ways. I have the report, they have not concluded, I don’t know if anyone’s going to be able to conclude the crown prince did it,” he said. “But whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently. His father denies it, the king, vehemently.”

Asked who should be held accountable for Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Mr Trump replied: “Maybe the world should be held accountable, because the world is a vicious place.”

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu became the latest figure to criticise Mr Trump’s comments, claiming on Friday that the US president was willing to “turn a blind eye” to the issue.

Arms embargoes

But in a sign of the growing international pressure being brought to bear on the Saudi regime, several European countries have halted the sale of weapons to the kingdom. Denmark, Germany the Netherlands and Finland have all imposed an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia over the war in Yemen. However, Britain has not halted arms sales to the kingdom, which remains a military ally of both the UK and US.

Earlier this week, humanitarian organisation Save the Children said 85,000 children had starved to death in Yemen since the outbreak of war in 2015.

Saudi Arabia, under Mohammed bin Salman, has launched an offensive against Houthi rebels in the north of the state. The United Nations’ envoy to Yemen arrived in the city of Hodeidah on Friday, in a bid to restart peace talks.

Both Mr Trump and the Saudi crown prince are due to attend the G20 summit in Argentina next week. It is not clear if the US president will meet the Saudi prince.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia on Friday dismissed reports from Amnesty and Human Rights Watch which claim that the kingdom has tortured and abused several activists who have been detained without charge since May. The government said the reports were “baseless” and based on anonymous sources.