(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution declaring that it believes the heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia “is responsible for the murder" of the Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi. It was a striking show of bipartisan disdain for the de facto ruler of a longstanding ally.
“The United States Senate has said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” retiring Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said after the measure passed by voice vote.
Corker, who sponsored the resolution, called that a “strong statement,” and said he was “glad the Senate is speaking with one voice, unanimously, towards this end.”
“It’s a clear and unambiguous message about how we feel about what happened to this journalist,” commented Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Before the vote, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said although he disagreed with some language in the text he would not object to it precisely because of the “critical element” – the line that holds bin Salman responsible for killing Khashoggi.
There was no immediate reaction to the vote from the Saudi government or its official SPA news agency.
The self-exiled writer was killed in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last October. After initial denials Riyadh admitted the incident had occurred and made some arrests, and the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis.
But the key issue of bin Salman’s responsibility remains contentious. As recently as Wednesday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo maintained that no “direct evidence” of the crown prince’s involvement has emerged, and that “the folks who actually committed the murder, we’ve held accountable.”
‘Foreign policy … a choice between two less than ideal outcomes’
Corker’s resolution passed shortly after Senate passage of a more polarizing measure, seeking to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It calls on President Trump to remove all forces engaged in the campaign in Yemen, except for those combating al-Qaeda or associated terrorists.
Authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the resolution invoked the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which is designed to limit the president’s ability to initiate or escalate military action abroad. It was supported by all 49 Democrats, joined by just seven Republicans, and passed 56-41.
The Republican “yes” votes came from Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) – who co-sponsored it with Sanders – and Sens. Susan Collins (Me.), Steve Daines (Mont.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Todd Young (Ind.)
The resolution would have to pass the House before going to the president’s desk.
The difference between the results for the Corker and Sanders resolutions reflected, in part, concerns of Republicans who, although troubled by the murder of Khashoggi, worry that withdrawing support for the Saudis in Yemen may benefit the regime in Iran – an enemy to both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told the Senate that while he believes Khashoggi’s murder and bin Salman’s responsibility must be dealt with, “I do not believe dealing with it requires us to shatter the Saudi-U.S. alliance.”
“The interesting thing about foreign policy is often it’s not a choice between a great idea and a bad idea; it’s often a choice between two less than ideal outcomes, and you’re trying to figure out which one would do the least harm and make the most sense.”
Rubio said he has long condemned Saudi Arabia’s “horrifying human rights violations” and would continue doing so, but he also recognizes that “there is a threat in the Middle East posed by Iran and their ambitions, which must be confronted. And it must be confronted, now, regionally, or eventually it will pull the United States in, into direct conflict.”
The U.S.-Saudi alliance, he said, was a “key part” of that.
“We do need to send a clear message to Saudi Arabia that what the crown prince did to Mr. Khashoggi is unacceptable,” Rubio concluded. “But this is the wrong way to do the right thing.”
In an Oval Office interview with Reuters on Tuesday Trump reiterated he stood by the Saudis, saying in response to a question that, “at this moment,” that means standing by bin Salman.
The Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen was launched in 2015 – with bin Salman, who is also defense minister, at the helm – in support of the war-torn country’s internationally-recognized government in its fight against the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.
Thousands of civilians have been killed in airstrikes blamed on the coalition, and the fighting has contributed to what the U.N. has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The Houthis, using missiles which the U.S. says were provided by Iran, have targeted civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, including an international airport.
On Thursday, representatives of the warring parties agreed at talks in Sweden to hold a ceasefire in the port city of Hodeidah, a vital point of entry for humanitarian aid.