Thursday, October 18, 2018

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U.S. ups pressure on Saudis over writer’s disappearance

» Trump demanding answers » Lawmakers pushing for sanctions

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    FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2015, file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. Turkish claims that Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post, was slain inside a Saudi diplomatic mission in Turkey, has put the Trump administration in a delicate spot with one of its closest Mid-east allies. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

    Hasan Jamali

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    President Donald Trump speaks during his meeting to discuss potential damage from Hurricane Michael, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    Pablo Martinez Monsivais

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    Alyssa Edling, center, and Thomas Malia, second from right, both with PEN America, join others as they hold signs of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, during a news conference about his disappearance in Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in front of The Washington Post in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

    Jacquelyn Martin

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    Nihad Awad, right, executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, speaks during a news conference with Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., left, asking for answers about journalist Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance in Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in front of The Washington Post in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

    Jacquelyn Martin

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    Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., right, speaks during a news conference about journalist Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance in Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in front of the Washington Post in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

    Jacquelyn Martin

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump demanded answers Wednesday from Saudi Arabia about the fate of a missing Saudi writer as lawmakers pushed for sanctions and a top Republican said the man was likely killed after entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Trump said he didn’t know what happened to Jamal Khashoggi and expressed hope that the 59-year-old writer, who went missing a week ago, was still alive. But senior members of Congress with access to U.S. intelligence reporting feared the worst.

More than 20 Republican and Democratic senators instructed Trump to order an investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance under legislation that authorizes imposition of sanctions for perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross human rights violations.

While no suspects were named, and the lawmakers’ letter to the president is only a pre-step in taking punitive action, it marked a departure from decades of close U.S.-Saudi relations that have only intensified under Trump. Riyadh has supported the administration’s tough stance toward Iran, a key rival of Saudi Arabia in the volatile Middle East.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has reviewed the U.S. intelligence into what happened to Khashoggi, said “the likelihood is he was killed on the day he walked into the consulate.” He said that “there was Saudi involvement” in whatever happened with the journalist, who wrote columns for the Washington Post.

“The Saudis have a lot of explaining to do because all indications are that they have been involved at minimum with his disappearance,” Corker told The Associated Press. “Everything points to them.”

Khashoggi, a wealthy former government insider who had been living in the U.S. in self-imposed exile, had gone to the consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to get paperwork he needed for his upcoming marriage while his Turkish fiancee waited outside.

Turkish authorities have said he was killed by members of an elite Saudi “assassination squad,” an allegation the Saudi government has dismissed.

Trump said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations. He also said the U.S. was working “very closely” with Turkey, “and I think we’ll get to the bottom of it.”

While angry members of Congress likely won’t cause the administration to end decades of close security ties with Saudi Arabia, the initiation on Wednesday of possible sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act indicated the depth of concern on Capitol Hill over Khashoggi’s case. Lawmakers could also throw a wrench into arms sales that require their approval and demand the U.S. scale back support for the Saudi military campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said if Saudi Arabia had lured a U.S. resident into a consulate and killed him, “it’s time for the United States to rethink our military, political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.”


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