An influential US Senate ally of President Donald Trump pledged yesterday that Congress would take decisive action against Saudi Arabia over a missing writer, calling for the ouster of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
"This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told 'Fox and Friends', one of the president's favourite news broadcasts.
Graham, discussing the feared killing of Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the monarchy, was backed by Marco Rubio, another of the top Republicans in the upper house, who described the crown prince as "young and aggressive".
The US president yesterday said he had spoken with the Saudi crown prince, who is known by his initials MbS, and been assured that a "full" probe into the disappearance was under way.
On Monday, after speaking by telephone with King Salman, Trump suggested that the October 2 disappearance of Khashoggi, who had been working with The Washington Post, could have been at the hands of "rogue killers".
But Graham, who has recently ingratiated himself with Trump, launched a tirade against Riyadh. He called MbS a "rogue crown prince" who is jeopardising relations with the US.
Graham planned to share his views with the president and advocate suspending arms sales.
"Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MbS knowing it," he told Fox. "I was on the (Senate) floor every time defending Saudi Arabia because they're a good ally," he told Fox. "This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey and to expect me to ignore it. I feel used and abused.
"There is a difference between a country and an individual," he added. "The MbS figure is to me toxic. He can never be a world leader on the world stage."
He questioned why the crown prince would put Saudi Arabia's strong backers, especially Trump, in a bad spot and said he felt "personally offended" by the kingdom's leadership.
"They have nothing but contempt for us. Why would you put a guy like me and the president in this box after all the president has done?" Graham fumed. "This guy has got to go."
"Well this is not rogue killers, this is a rogue crown prince," he said in a separate interview with Fox News Radio. "I would suspend arms sales as long as he is in charge." He said that while King Salman is revered in Saudi Arabia, the crown prince "is pulling the levers there".
As for the steps Trump should take, Graham said it was "up to the president" but pledged that Congress would "sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia".
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met the Saudi king and crown prince yesterday to discuss the disappearance of Khashoggi.
Meanwhile, Rubio swatted away Trump's reservations about sanctions that might freeze tens of billions of dollars worth of Saudi arms sales.
"There are other countries we could sell that to," he told CNN.
"I don't care how much money it is, there isn't enough money in the world to purchase back our credibility on human rights and the way nations should conduct themselves," he added.
"This is a fear we've had for a long time... that the crown prince is a young and aggressive guy that would overestimate how much room he had to do things."
Congress "will act" in a way that will likely alter the US-Saudi relationship for the foreseeable future, Rubio asserted.
"What those specific measures are obviously is going to be up for debate, but they will be strong and meaningful," he added, saying he expected the administration would "follow suit".
Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, vowed to "not vote to support any arms sale to Saudi Arabia at this time, nor will I support US assistance for the Saudi-led war in Yemen."
"The United States must send a message that this killing will not go unpunished," she said in a statement.
Any initiative taken by the US Congress would have to wait until the November 6 elections, however, as both chambers are on recess until then.
Last week, top senators - including Rubio and Graham - sent a letter compelling the White House to report to Congress within 120 days with a determination about whether human rights abuses had occurred, and whether sanctions should be applied.
Congress has the power to temporarily block major arms deals, and several senators signalled they would consider doing so.
Other key developments
* Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raises the possibility that parts of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul have been repainted since Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance
*'Davos in Desert' unravels: the investment conference scheduled to take place in Riyadh next week sees more withdrawals and cancellations
* US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with the top leadership of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, will now hold talks with Turkish officials in Ankara
* Saudi Arabia denies killing Jamal Khashoggi but backs a "thorough probe", says US
* Saudi consul-general in Istanbul Mohamed al-Otaibi leaves Turkey for Riyadh, according to reports, before officials search his residence
Last updated: October 17 2018 01:03 AM
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