Senate votes to cut US military aid to Saudis over Khashoggi murder

Decision a rebuke to Donald Trump’s response to journalist’s killing in Istanbul

US independent senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders, flanked by Democratic Senator from Connecticut Chris Murphy (left) and Republican Senator from Utah Mike Lee: voted to end US military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo

US independent senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders, flanked by Democratic Senator from Connecticut Chris Murphy (left) and Republican Senator from Utah Mike Lee: voted to end US military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo

 

The US Senate has delivered a strong rebuke to US president Donald Trump’s response to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, voting to end American assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

In a rare moment of bipartisanship, seven Republican senators joined Democrats to vote 56 to 41 for the motion put forward by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah.

The Senate also approved a resolution to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the murder of the US resident in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd. The resolution, which was passed unanimously, states that the Senate believes that the crown prince is “responsible for the murder”, and calls for “appropriate accountability” from the Saudi government.

The votes set up a potential legislative conflict between the US Congress and the White House if the House of Representatives takes up the issue; it also marks a potential sea-change in the US’s stance on its long-term ally, Saudi Arabia, a relationship that has come under scrutiny since the brutal murder of Khashoggi.

War in Yemen

The killing of the journalist has caused senior members of the foreign policy establishment to reassess US support for the Saudis in the almost four-year war in Yemen, which is widely seen as the greatest humanitarian crisis facing the world currently.

The vote to end US involvement in the Yemeni war invoked the 1973 War Powers Act – a rarely-used law intended to check presidential power over decisions about US involvement in wars.

It now falls to the House of Representatives to decide to take up the matter. Senior White House officials lobbied key figures in the House on Friday not to bring forward similar resolutions.

Mr Trump, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary James Mattis have said that they do not intend to change Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, arguing there is no conclusive evidence of a direct link between the Saudi leadership and the murder. But there have been numerous reports that the CIA itself believes that the defacto leader of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, directly ordered the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi.

‘Murderous regime’

Speaking after the vote, Mr Sanders described the vote as a “historic moment”.

“What the United States Senate said in a very loud way is that we will not continue to have our military posture dictated by a despotic, murderous regime in Saudi Arabia – a regime which does not respect democracy, which does not respect human rights,” he said.

The development in Washington took place as a Houthi delegation arrived back at the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, following an initial round of peace talks in Sweden.