US senators frustrated over White House silence on Khashoggi

Sanctions threatened after 'zero' information at briefing on Trump administration's handling of Saudi writer's killing.

    Senators accused the White House of withholding information on the grisly killing of the Washington Post columnist [Lefteris Pitarakis/AP]
    Senators accused the White House of withholding information on the grisly killing of the Washington Post columnist [Lefteris Pitarakis/AP]

    Senators in the United States left a closed-door briefing with Trump administration officials frustrated by the lack of new information on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

    The meeting on the status of the investigation into Khashoggi's assassination on Monday came amid rising tensions between the White House and Congress over the US-Saudi relationship.

    "It was a complete waste of time. I knew more than they did," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of President Donald Trump on many issues, told reporters.

    Graham said it was time for more action, but did not elaborate.

    Republican Senator Marco Rubio said he didn't learn anything new from the briefing. Moving forward, he said, "the Senate will have to decide if it's going to impose its own sanctions" on the government of Saudi Arabia.

    Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post, was killed in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul last year by Saudi agents. The Saudi government said the murder was carried out by "rogue" operatives and denied the involvement of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

    American legislators, however, have said they believe Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, but Trump has been reluctant to place blame.

    'Zero' information

    Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said the briefing contained "zero" new information and expressed frustration by the lack of an intelligence official among the briefers, a move he described as "purposeful".

    "They don't want us to have a conversation about the intelligence," he said, referring to the White House. "These folks had no new information and were not permitted to give us any new information."

    Bob Menendez, the committee's ranking Democrat, said new sanctions should be levied, possibly via legislation he co-sponsored with Graham.

    "I think the Senate's going to have to act unless it is willing to accept the death of a US resident journalist as an acceptable action because of a broader relationship. I don't accept that," Menendez said.

    The Trump administration missed a February deadline to report to Congress on who was responsible for Khashoggi's death. The report was required after legislators last year triggered a provision of the 2016 Global Magnitsky human rights act requiring a Trump administration investigation.

    "The Senate needs to act. Otherwise, Global Magnitsky will have no consequence and any administration, this one or another, can just ignore it," Menendez said.

    Khashoggi, a critic of the Riyadh government, was killed and his body dismembered on October 2, 2018 in Istanbul.

    His body has never been found. Turkish investigators believe it was taken in bags from the consulate to the consulate general's residence a few hundred metres away and incinerated in a high-powered oven.

    Khashoggi's killing has fuelled simmering discontent in Washington over Saudi Arabia's human rights record and heavy civilian casualties in Yemen's civil war, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

    Defence deals

    Meanwhile, US company Lockheed Martin Corp will receive the first payment towards the installation a $15bn missile defence system in Saudi Arabia as part of a $110bn arms package the Trump administration negotiated with the kingdom in 2017, the Pentagon said on Monday.

    The Pentagon awarded Lockheed a $946m payment for the foreign military sale. Saudi Arabia is purchasing 44 THAAD launchers, missiles and related equipment.

    Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington, DC, said although the timing of the announcement was coincidental, there could be criticism of the Saudi deal moving forward.

    "The agreement was reached two years ago that the US would provide this technology to Saudi Arabia in order to deal with what the US has called 'malign Iranian influence' across the greater Middle East," she said.

    Will Donald Trump change his mind on the Khashoggi killing?

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    Will Donald Trump change his mind on the Khashoggi killing?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies