Trump 'raises human rights issues' in call with MbS after pressure over Khashoggi, Saudi crackdown
US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed human rights and regional issues over the phone, the White House claimed on Tuesday, amid accusations Washington is turning a blind eye to Saudi abuses.
The two leaders were said to have spoken about Riyadh’s role in Middle East stability, maintaining pressure on Iran as well as 'the importance of human rights issues'.
Washington’s Middle East ally has come under fire following mounting pressure over its handling of the war in Yemen and moves to stifle local dissent, including the murder of journalist Khashoggi in Saudi consulate in Turkey and arrest of dozens of activists.
US lawmakers have called on President Trump to harden its stance towards Saudi Arabia following the Saudi journalist's murder, which US intelligence believes was ordered by the crown prince.
Trump has been ignoring these calls saying the partnership with the kingdom is important for the US economy as well as for maintaining stability in the region.
The US State Department on Monday designated 16 people for their role in Khashoggi’s death and said they and their families would be barred from entering the United States.
A statement by the State Department listed the individuals and said that they had been designated under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2019.
The section under which the Saudi citizens were barred stipulates that “in cases where the Secretary of State has credible information that officials of foreign governments have been involved in significant corruption or gross violations of human rights, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States."
A critic of the Saudi regime, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered October 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a team of 15 agents sent from Riyadh. His body has never been recovered.
After having denied the murder, Saudi Arabia said the operation was carried out by agents who were out of control. A trial of 11 suspects opened earlier this year in Saudi Arabia.
But much of the case remains shrouded, beginning with the role of Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman.
The US Senate, after a closed-door briefing by the CIA, adopted a resolution in December naming the crown prince as "responsible" for the murder, while President Donald Trump has refused to publicly take a stand.