Renewed congressional efforts by to ban all U.S. weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, in response to the kingdom’s brutal tactics in Yemen and its role in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, only embolden Iran and its terror proxies in the region, a top Saudi diplomat said Sunday.
Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, pushed back against Sen. Bob Menendez’s legislation, saying its approval would only be a win for Tehran and its agenda for the Middle East.
“I find it strange that members of Congress would try to curtail allies, like Saudi Arabia … in trying to push back against terrorist organizations,” he said during an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation.
The bipartisan bill introduced by Mr. Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, last week prohibits the sale of certain advanced weapon systems to Saudi forces battling Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
It also calls for a permanent halt to all aerial refueling operations by U.S. warplanes for Saudi fighters and bombers. Then-Defense Secretary James Mattis already ordered a suspension of U.S. aerial refueling missions to Saudi aircraft late last year.
“This is not a war that we chose, this is not a war that we wanted, but we cannot allow a strategically-important country [like Yemen] to be dominated by a terrorist group allied with Iran and Hezbollah,” Mr al-Juberi said.
Should the legislation be approved by Congress and signed into law, it would only be “providing ammunition to the ‘Death to America’ crowd,” in Tehran, he added.
Aside from Ryiadh’s heavy-handed actions against Houthi rebels in Yemen, congressional lawmakers are also are looking to punish Saudi Arabia — namely Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — for its role in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.
The Washington Post columnist and well-known critic of the Saudi regime was killed at the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October, on the orders of the Saudi crown prince. His body was reportedly dismembered and disposed of by Saudi security and intelligence officials in Turkey.
The Trump White House has already taken punitive measures against Riyadh, in the form of diplomatic sanctions, but has refrained from targeting the crown prince himself.
Administration officials say no evidence linking Crown Prince Salman to the murder has surfaced, despite public claims by top U.S. intelligence leaders —including CIA Director Gina Haspel — implicating the Saudi leader in the crime.
The New York Times reported Thursday that Crown Prince Salman had threatened to put “a bullet” in Mr. Khashoggi as early as September 2017, if the journalist did not cease his criticisms of the kingdom.
“There may be emotions here, there may be exaggerations here” between White House and the intelligence community’s assessments of Saudi role on the Khashoggi affair, the top Saudi diplomat said.
“We are still investigating … and I feel that we will find the truth” on what happened to Mr. Khashoggi, he added.
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