Relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia are unlikely to improve any time soon with the senators accusing the kingdom of a series of misdeeds and saying that its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has gone "full gangster." The US lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — also slammed the kingdom for the way it handled the civil war in Yemen as well as the series of alleged human rights abuses.
The senators made their stance clear during the confirmation hearing of Retired General John Abizaid, US President Donald Trump's nominee to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia. During this, issues such as the torture of women's activists and a US citizen, and the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi were also discussed.
"Saudi Arabia has engaged in acts that are simply not acceptable," Reuters quoted Republican Senator Jim Risch, the committee chairman, as saying. Several other lawmakers also had similar opinion about the kingdom and Republican Senator Marco Rubio said that the crown prince had gone "full gangster," a thought echoed by Senator Ron Johnson.
"He is reckless, he's ruthless, he has a penchant for escalation, for taking high risks, confrontational in his foreign policy approach and I think increasingly willing to test the limits of what he can get away with the United States," Rubio added.
"He's kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon. He kicked out the ambassador of Canada. Canceled flights to Toronto. Cut off investments. Recalled all their students in Canada, over a tweet. ... He ordered or knew of efforts to murder Jamal Khashoggi. He's gone full gangster, and it's difficult to work with a guy like that, no matter how important the relationship is."
While Abizaid agreed that Riyadh needed to come clean on Khashoggi, he stressed on the importance of good relations between the US and Saudi Arabia. "In the long run, we need a strong and mature partnership with Saudi Arabia," Abizaid said. "It is in our interests to make sure that the relationship is sound." Speaking of the resolution that the Senate and House of Representatives have passed that would end US support for the Saudi-led coalition, Trump's nominee said that the administration believes that the US support must continue.
"Doing so bolsters the self-defence capabilities of our partners and reduces the risk of harm to civilians," Abizaid said.
This is not the first time that the US senators have lashed out at the crown prince. In December 2018, a group of senior senators in the US attended a closed-door meeting with the CIA after which they said that the briefing by director Gina Haspel had solidified their belief that the murder was ordered by the crown prince.
Labelling Salman "a wrecking ball," Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina said that the suspicions against the crown prince had gotten stronger. "There's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw," the Washington Post quoted him as saying, which is a reference to the bone saw that was used to murder Khashoggi. "I think he's complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to the highest level possible," he added.
Graham went on to say that the murder had caused a breach in the US-Saudi relationship and even though the two nations have always maintained good equation, it doesn't mean that US will stand by everything Riyadh does. He also said that it was now time for Washington to come down on the government in Riyadh like "a ton of bricks."
"Saudi Arabia's a strategic ally and the relationship is worth saving - but not at all costs," Graham said, adding that he could not support the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia any more.
Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, agreed with Graham and added that the CIA meeting "just confirmed what I thought all along: This all leads up to the crown prince." He added that it was illogical to think that someone other than the crown prince had ordered Khashoggi's murder.
Other senators who attended the CIA briefing seemed to have a similar opinion and Sen. Bob Corker, Republican Tennessee noted: "If the Crown Prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes."