WASHINGTON The US Senate dealt President Donald Trump a double blow over Saudi Arabia on Thursday, approving a resolution to end US military support for Riyadh’s war in Yemen, and another holding the Saudi crown prince responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Though largely symbolic, the two bipartisan measures deliver a fresh warning to Trump, who has repeatedly signalled his backing for the Saudi regime even amid a mounting uproar over the Yemen conflict and the slaying of dissident Saudi journalist Khashoggi.
On the Yemen measure, which more broadly attacks the president’s prerogative to launch military actions, 49 Democrats or their allies voted in favour, along with seven Republicans, while another three Republicans abstained.
Then, in a voice vote with no opposition, the Senate also approved a resolution condemning Khashoggi’s murder and calling Prince Mohammed bin Salman “responsible” for it.
“What the Senate did today is say that the United States Congress is sick and tired of abdicating its constitutional responsibility on matters of war,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who votes with the Democrats.
“We will not continue to have our military posture dictated by a despotic, murderous regime in Saudi Arabia.”
The resolutions cannot be debated in the House of Representatives before January, and would likely be vetoed in any case by Trump.
But the Senate votes send a strong message to the White House over anger on both sides of the aisle towards Riyadh, intensified by the mounting civilian death toll in Yemen and the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Anger at the human cost of the war in Yemen has prompted a harder line in Congress about the US military’s role in backing Saudi-led coalition strikes against Huthi rebels.
The Yemen “resolution directs the president to remove US armed forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen, except those engaged in operations directed at al-Qaeda, within 30 days,” the resolution states.
The resolution came the same day as UN-brokered talks in Sweden saw some progress, with Yemen’s warring parties agreeing to a ceasefire at the vital port of Hodeida.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the talks, saying “peace is possible.” Four years of war in Yemen have killed about 10,000 people and are threatening up to 20 million people with starvation.
Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnella Trump loyalisthad called on his party to vote against the Yemen resolution.
But he did back the rebuke of Prince Mohammed, crafted by Bob Corker, a Republican who has been critical of the president.
Under the resolution, the Senate “believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” the measure states.
It also calls on the Saudis to release blogger Raif Badawi, his sister Samar Badawi, and Saudi women’s rights activists who were arrested as political prisoners in 2018.
The resolution notes “the United States-Saudi Arabia relationship is important to United States national security and economic interests” but calls on Riyadh to “moderate its increasingly erratic foreign policy.”
The rebuke of the young heir apparent to the Saudi throne is a direct challenge to Trump, who has sought to cast doubt on the crown prince’s involvement in the killing and has stressed instead the importance of US trade and military ties with Riyadh.
“Here’s what I believe: Saudi Arabia needs us more than we need them,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said.
It’s “not too much to askan ally not to butcher a guy in a consulate. This is not World War II. So I’m not going to look away at what MBS did,” Graham added, using the abbreviation for the crown prince.
In rebuke to Trump, US Senate blames Saudi prince for Khashoggis murder
The US Senate delivered a rare double rebuke to President Donald Trump on Saudi Arabia on Thursday, voting to end US military support for the war in Yemen and blame the Saudi crown prince for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The votes were largely symbolic because to become law the resolutions would have to pass the House of Representatives, whose Republican leaders have blocked any legislation intended to rebuke the Saudis.
In a historic move, Senators voted 56-41 to end US military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemens civil war. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned what the United Nations calls the worlds most dire human crisis, with the country on the brink of famine.
It was the first time either chamber of Congress had backed a resolution to withdraw US forces from a military engagement under the War Powers Act. That law, passed in 1973, limits the presidents ability to commit US forces to potential hostilities without congressional approval.
Seven of Trumps fellow Republicans joined Senate Democrats to back the measure.
Immediately after the Yemen vote, the Senate backed a resolution blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggis murder and insisting that Saudi Arabia hold accountable anyone responsible for his death.
Khashoggi, a US resident who was a columnist for the Washington Post, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. The Senate vote, which was unanimous, puts pressure on House leaders to allow a vote on the Khashoggi resolution this month, before Congress adjourns for the year.
Unanimously, the United States Senate has said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That is a strong statement. I think it speaks to the values that we hold dear, said Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and sponsor of the resolution.
Trump has said he wants Washington to stand by the Saudi government and the prince, despite a CIA assessment it was likely he ordered Khashoggis killing. He promised to veto the war powers resolution.
Opponents of the resolution are reluctant to take any action to disrupt the strategic US relationship with Saudi Arabia, seen as an essential counterweight in the Middle East to Iran, arch-enemy of close US ally Israel.
Administration officials also see Saudi support as a linchpin for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan yet to be unveiled by the Trump administration. And they have argued that ending US support could complicate Yemen peace talks.
Shared Strategic Interests
Asked to comment on the Khashoggi resolution, a White House spokesperson noted sanctions imposed on 17 Saudis over the killing and said, Our shared strategic interests with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remain, and we continue to view as achievable the twin imperatives of protecting America and holding accountable those responsible for the killing.
But backers of the resolutions, including some Republicans, promised to press ahead. On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators promised to push in the new Congress legislation for humanitarian sanctions and a ban on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
Whats next is to do everything possible to demand that the House of Representatives do what the members of the House want done, an opportunity to vote on this, Senator Bernie Sanders told Reuters.
Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he would bring the resolution up again after the new Congress convenes in January, when Democrats will control the House of Representatives. The measure could pass the Senate again, given the bipartisan support it received on Thursday, even though Trumps Republicans will have a larger majority in the upper chamber next year.
I think were going to win in the Senate and I think we are going to do what the American people want, that is to end our participation in this horrific and destructive war, Sanders said.
There was no immediate word from House leadership on whether they would allow a vote on either resolution.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis, who briefed House members on Thursday, urged senators during a briefing last month to keep supporting the Saudi-led coalition.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said her members supported congressional action. There certainly is an appetite in our caucus for that, Pelosi, who is expected to be the next House Speaker, told reporters.
Yemens warring parties agreed on Thursday to cease fighting for the Houthi-held port city of Hodeidah and withdraw their troops, the first significant breakthrough for UN-led peace efforts in five years of conflict.
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