US Senators pile pressure on Trump over Khashoggi disappearance

US Senators pile pressure on Trump over Khashoggi disappearance
A bipartisan group of senators told Trump that he must act on the disappearance on Jamal Khashoggi from the Saudi consulate last week.
4 min read
11 October, 2018
Corker has urged Trump to take action on the issue [AFP]
US Senators sent a letter to President Donald Trump late Wednesday demanding he take action against Saudi Arabia following the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi last week.

The lawmakers signed a letter demanding a human rights probe into the Khashoggi case, the Saudi journalist who went missing last week during a visit to his country's consulate in Turkey.

The veteran journalist was a resident in the US and wrote for the Washington Post, and well-connected to leading figures in American politics, media and security.

Turkish, US and British intelligence sources have told press, privately, that Khashoggi was likely murdered at the consulate at the request of the Saudi leadership.

Among the lawmakers to sign the letter demanding a human rights probe was Republicans Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham and Democrats Bob Menendez and Patrick Leahy.

"The Global Magnitsky [...] Act requires the President, upon receipt of [this request], to determine whether a foreign person is responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violation of internationally recognised human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression, and report to the Committee within 120 days with a determination and a decision on the imposition of sanctions on that foreign person or persons," the letter read.

It said that the circumstances around Khashoggi's disappearance "suggests that he could be a victim of a gross violation of internationally-recognised human rights", including torture or killing.

The letter urges action, including sanctions, against anyone found to be involved in the case, including "with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia".

Corker said that sanctions could "absolutely" target Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an interview that followed.

But he also tried to temper the criticism with some words of praise for the crown prince, who is a key ally of President Donald Trump.

"[Mohammed bin Salman] is a person of the future. He's got a vision for the country that I think is extraordinary for a young leader. At the same time whether its steps they've taken in the region, this in particular..., we need to push back on activities like this if they have occurred. We need to nip it in the bud," he told reporters.

"This is what this is intended to do, to send a strong message from us. It's my hope that it doesn't lead to the top. Indications are that if in fact he was murdered, it could well do so."  

Trump had largely avoided getting involved in the subject directly, saying he hoped the issue would "sort itself out".

On Wednesday that changed, with Trump issuing more brusque words on the case.

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he spoke with the Saudi leadership "at the highest level" regarding the fate of the missing journalist.

Trump told reporters at the White House that he talked with the kingdom's leaders "more than once" since Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post contributor, disappeared on Tuesday after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

"This is a bad situation," Trump said, "we cannot let this happen to reporters, to anybody".

"We're demanding everything. We want to see what's going on there."

The president added that he would invite Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, to the White House to meet him, after she called for Trump to get involved in the matter. 

Cengiz waited outside the consulate when Khashoggi entered on 2 October and raised the alarm when he did not emerge.

Khashoggi feared for his safety before he entered the Saudi diplomatic compound, and asked her to speak to leading Turkish officials if he did not come out of the consulate.

The journalist fled Saudi Arabia and lived in self-imposed exile in the US, after he grew more critical of Mohammed bin Salman for the war in Yemen and the crown prince's crackdown of dissent in the kingdom.