Policy

GOP Senators Ask Trump to Shelve Saudi Nuclear Talks, Citing Khashoggi

After journalist’s slaying in Saudi consulate, senators have concerns about ‘transparency, accountability, and judgment’ of Saudi officials

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and four other GOP senators sent a letter to President Donald Trump Wednesday urging him to shelve negotiations for a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia for the time being. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A group of Republican senators is urging President Donald Trump to suspend ongoing discussions on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia to limit that country’s nuclear capability as lawmakers learn more about the Saudi government’s role in the slaying of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi earlier this month.

“The ongoing revelations about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as certain Saudi actions related to Yemen and Lebanon, have raised further serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decisionmakers in Saudi Arabia,” the GOP senators wrote in a letter to the president Wednesday.

Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Dean Heller of Nevada, Todd Young of Indiana and Rand Paul of Kentucky co-signed the letter.

“These serious questions have solidified our reservations about pursuing a potential U.S. civil nuclear agreement with Saudi Arabia,” the senators wrote, advising the president not to pursue an agreement with the Saudis like the one the U.S. struck with the United Arab Emirates in 2009.

That deal resulted in the UAE agreeing not to enrich uranium, reprocess plutonium, or engage in any other nuclear fuel-making processes.

The president has called Saudi Arabia’s efforts to muddy what happened to Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, “the worst cover-up ever.”

After initial denials, the Saudi government confirmed Khashoggi died inside the consulate on Oct. 2 but claimed he died after a fistfight that broke out as he argued with Saudi officials. As the Saudis’ story continues to shift, they have insisted that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had nothing to do with the columnist’s death.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Erdogan said his government’s investigation into the incident inside the Istanbul consulate showed a Saudi government plot to lure Khashoggi there and murder him for criticizing the crown prince.

The senators on Wednesday urged Trump not to pursue any deal with the Saudis on nuclear proliferation for the “foreseeable future.”

The U.S. has already begun to dish out diplomatic consequences to some of the Saudi officials it believes are responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced last week that the Trump administration is revoking visas for some of those officials.

But Trump does not plan to unilaterally halt a multibillion-dollar weapons sale to the country. Congress can block that sale.

Canceling the weapons sale to the Saudis, Trump said last week, would give that business to Russia, China or France.

“We do that, we’re just hurting ourselves,” the president said of the weapons sales.

“In terms of what we ultimately do, I’m going to leave it very much — in conjunction with me — I’m going to leave it up to Congress,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he signed water infrastructure legislation.

“Nobody likes what happened” to Khashoggi, he said of himself and other world leaders.

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