U.S. senators pledge to push Trump on Saudis, journalist's death

U.S. senators pledge to push Trump on Saudis, journalist's death
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest in front of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal//File Photo   -  Copyright  Osman Orsal(Reuters)
By Reuters

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican and Democratic U.S. senators said on Monday they were frustrated with the Trump administration’s failure to provide more information about the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi and vowed to push for a stronger response.

State and Treasury Department officials briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee behind closed doors on Monday evening. Lawmakers said they had learned nothing new.

“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 Mitt Romney said: “It was not very helpful. And it was frustrating for a number of us to have made so little progress.”

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 U.S. 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. In Saudi Arabia, 11 suspects have been indicted in the murder, and officials have rejected accusations that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing.

The report was required after lawmakers last year triggered a provision of the 2016 Global Magnitsky human rights act requiring that 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.

Senator Jim Risch, the committee’s Republican chairman, has not joined the criticism of the administration, but has sought more information.

“This is a work in progress, and we will not let it go,” Risch said in a written statement after the briefing. It said written material from the State Department was being reviewed.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Riyadh government, was killed at a Saudi consulate in Turkey in October. His death 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.

Last month, the Democratic-led House of Representatives approved a rare war powers resolution that would end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. [L1N20820U]

The timing of a Senate vote is uncertain.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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