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US Senate Weighing Resolution Pinning Khashoggi Murder on Saudi Crown Prince

© AP Photo / Jacquelyn MartinPeople hold signs during a protest at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in Washington.
People hold signs during a protest at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in Washington. - Sputnik International
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of US Senators introduced a resolution calling for the White House and the international community to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and to pressure Riyadh to negotiate an end to its war in Yemen.

Resolution 714, introduced by Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Ed Markey in conjunction with Republicans Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Todd Young and Chris Coons, is the continued fallout of the CIA's finding that the Saudi crown prince must be responsible for the murder of Khashoggi, which was leaked last month to the media. CIA Director Gina Haspel gave extensive closed-door testimony before the Senate on Tuesday, which swayed many fence-sitters unsure whether or not to side with the Trump administration's version of the events, which is based heavily on that provided by the Saudi monarchy.

A man passes in front of a screen showing Jamal Khashoggi during a commemoration event of Khashoggi's supporters on November 11, 2018 in Istanbul - Sputnik International
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"There's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw," Graham said following Tuesday's testimony. He and others indicated last week that they wouldn't break with President Donald Trump, whose administration has maintained "there is no smoking gun" pointing to the crown prince, until they heard from Haspel, who traveled to Ankara to hear the infamous recording made by Turkish intelligence of Khashoggi's October 2 murder.

"This resolution — without equivocation — definitively states that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi and has been a wrecking ball to the region jeopardizing our national security interests on multiple fronts," Graham said in a Thursday statement on the document. "It will be up to Saudi Arabia as to how to deal with this matter. But it is up to the United States to firmly stand for who we are and what we believe."

​The resolution expresses the demands of the Senate "that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin abd al-Aziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia be held accountable for contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, preventing a resolution to the blockade of Qatar, the jailing and torture of dissidents and activists inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the use of force to intimidate rivals and the abhorrent and unjustified murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi."

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After listing a series of stipulations about the crown prince connecting him to the various items above, the resolution "condemns in the strongest possible terms the murder of Jamal Khashoggi" and expresses the Senate's view that "based on the evidence and analysis made available to this institution, [the Senate] has a high level of confidence that Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi."

It further urges the US government and international community to "hold all parties, including Mohammed bin Salman," accountable for Khashoggi's murder.

The resolution also addresses the Yemen War, a subject about which the Senate will also debate through another measure, Resolution 54, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders back in February. That resolution has acquired a new-found interest since the revelations last month.

While 714 doesn't address the issue of US support for the Saudi-led coalition's war, it does call on Riyadh to "negotiate directly with representatives of the Houthi movement" in order to end the war and "refocus efforts on defeating al-Qaeda and ISIS [Daesh] in Yemen."

The U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt meets with King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, on board the U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Quincy (CA-71) in the Great Bitter Lake, Egypt, on 14 February 1945. The King is speaking to the interpreter, Colonel William A. Eddy, USMC. - Sputnik International
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Its final measure calls on the kingdom to release Saudi blogger Raif Badawi along with other political prisoners, including women's rights activists imprisoned earlier this year.

Resolution 54, by contrast, aims to "direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen" on the basis that they have not been authorized by Congress. While it was introduced nine months ago, only on November 28 was it added to the Senate calendar.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of anti-war organization Codepink, told Sputnik Thursday that some senators were trying to use the two resolutions as an excuse to support 714 but not 54, which she regards as "a bird in the hand" because of its concrete effects upon the conduct of the war in Yemen. Better, she said, to pass both.

"[Resolution 714] does bring up other things that are not in 54, so I think supporting both of them is the best thing," the activist said. Codepink has been pushing to raise awareness about the Saudi war in Yemen since the spring of 2015, and Benjamin is author of a book about the US-Saudi alliance titled "Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection."

Benjamin said she was pleased at the momentum the movement to scrutinize US-Saudi relations had gained since Khashoggi's murder in October.

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"I don't think there would have been this push for negotiations had there not been all of this dissent within Congress, and I don't think that the US would have stopped the refueling had it not been for all the opposition. And I do think that even if it's just the comments to the press, the tweets, the op-eds, all of this creates a different set of realities, and it's pretty amazing to see how public opinion has shifted so tremendously since the death of Khashoggi. And having people like Senators [Bob] Corker and Graham speaking out as forcefully as they have been against MBS is pretty mind-blowing. We've been pushing them for three years, and they've been best buddies with him," she said.

Noting the worry expressed by many that the Senate's enthusiasm for holding the Saudi monarchy accountable for its conduct would not be mirrored by the House, Benjamin said, "It's not so much whether [Resolution 714] is going to pass, it's how much it forces senators to take positions and come out against the Saudi regime, and the pressure that puts on the administration… I don't think we should get caught in the weeds of which one is going to pass, will it pass in the House, will it be vetoed by Trump. I think we should appreciate the process and how it's building up a grassroots element we didn't have of people who care about these issues and will call their congresspeople on them. It's shamed those congresspeople who haven't spoken out and who have been so cozy with the Saudi regime in the past, and that momentum is going to create the change."

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However, since the CIA's position has become known, the question of MBS has become the center of the debate about Saudi Arabia, leading to speculation that the US may seek to remove him from power and replace him with another Saudi prince, such as Mohammed bin Nayef, who previously occupied the office before his removal last year at the behest of bin Salman.

Benjamin cautioned against this simplification and noted the limited nature of Resolution 714.

"It's not an entire reevaluation of the Saudi Kingdom and the US relationship to the kingdom," Benjamin told Sputnik. "That's something that worries us, because for us the issue is much deeper than MBS: he's just a very grotesque manifestation of a rotten system."

"But I think because of all the economic relationships, it's not just Trump, it's even those who are speaking out now — want to see some way out. And for them, the best way out would be if Mohammad bin Salman is replaced with someone else."

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Journalist and author Daniel Lazare echoed Benjamin's worries, telling Sputnik Thursday that this "ultra-serious" resolution effectively "calls for MBS' removal… I don't see how much longer the crown prince can remain in office if his prime patron declares him persona non grata."

Lazare noted that the resolution is particularly "threatening" to the House of Saud because "it demands an end to policies that the royal family in general has long backed," such as its repressive measures. "If the House follows up by passing a similar resolution next month, the political damage could be enormous."

However, "the Senate is playing with fire," he warns. "A little bit of destabilization would not be bad if it leaves the family chastened and obedient to US wishes, but too much could provide an opening for ISIS and al-Qaeda, which would like nothing more than to carry the banner of jihad into the Saudi heartland. If it starts feeding on itself, moreover, it could lead to wholesale collapse, in which case Saudi Arabia could wind up as the Middle East's next failed state. This is the ultimate nightmare from a US perspective. Yet given the weakness and decrepitude of the royal family, it's more than a possibility."

In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman addresses the Future Investment Initiative conference, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018 - Sputnik International
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"But since one could argue that the Saudi collapse was already underway by the time MBS took office and that his adventurist policies have merely accelerated the process, then there isn't much the US can do either way to hold off the impending avalanche," the journalist said.

Aside from the danger of destabilization, there is also the damage it would do to the US image in the eyes of everyday Arabs to simply try to replace one prince with another. Scholar Ali al-Ahmed told Sputnik Radio Wednesday that it was "very offensive" to suggest orchestrating a palace coup is the only option, "because they take away the population and their desire, their aspirations."

"This is not a country occupied by monkeys. There are people, and this is not the only choice — we are being given a false choice between one prince and another," Ahmed said. "The right choice — the American choice, I would say — is for the people to make that decision. Just like the Americans did in 1776 when they decided they didn't want the king, and they didn't want another king or another prince: they wanted their own government."

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