U.S. Cannot ‘Walk Away’ from ‘Outrage’ on Khashoggi Murder, Rubio Declares
Florida GOP senator says 'all options must be on table,' including axing arms deal even if it hurts U.S.-Saudi relations
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Sunday that “all options must be on the table” for punishing Saudi Arabia if the country is proven to have murdered Washington Post journalist and permanent U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi (pictured above center) in Istanbul, Turkey.
“If they lured this man into that consulate, they went medieval on him, and he was killed and he was chopped up, and they sent a death crew down there to kill him and do all this, that would be an outrage,” he told CNN host Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
“Just because they’re an ally in an important mission, which is containing Iranian expansion in the region, it cannot allow us to overlook or walk away from that. It undermines our ability to stand for morality and human rights all over the world,” said Rubio, a member of both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
“Every option needs to be there in a response,” he said. “Because no matter how important they might be to our Iranian strategy, our ability to be a voice for human rights … all of that is undermined and compromised if we are not willing to confront something as atrocious as what’s allegedly happened here.”
Whatever President Donald Trump does, Rubio said, “the reaction needs to be very strong and meaningful. It cannot be symbolic. It can’t just be words.”
Trump told CBS News’ “60 Minutes’” correspondent Lesley Stahl in an interview that will air Sunday night, “We’re going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment.”
In a clip of the upcoming interview, Trump noted that so far, Saudi officials have vehemently denied involvement in Khashoggi’s presumed death. Turkish intelligence officials have claimed to have audio and video of Khashoggi being tortured and killed.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (pictured above left) told Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a telephone call made public Sunday that the two countries’ relationship with Turkey remains strong. The two leaders agreed to form a commission to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance, according to Reuters.
Rubio told Tapper that he believed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin should forego a trip to the country next week for the “Davos in the Desert” conference on investment in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital.
Larry Kudlow, Trump’s director of the United States National Economic Council, told ABC’s “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos that the subject of the upcoming summit, which some have described as an “investment conference,” is “actually a conference about terrorist financing and how to stop it.”
Kudlow, who said he spoke to Mnuchin Saturday night, told Stephanopoulos the secretary is intending to attend due to the “importance of the issue of ending terrorist financing.”
He noted Mnuchin will make a final decision on the matter as the week progresses and as new information surfaces.
“I don’t think [Secretary Mnuchin] should go,” said Rubio. “I don’t think any of our government officials should be going and pretending it’s business as usual — not until we know exactly what’s happened here.”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd’s line of questioning for Rubio zeroed in on whether the United States may have had some advance warning that Khashoggi’s life could be in danger.
Though Rubio told Todd he would “not discuss that on television,” the senator said that he believed it is U.S. policy to inform a potential target if they were aware of a specific threat.
Rubio said there were multiple press reports that efforts were underway to try to get Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia, and that Khashoggi was “never going to do that.”
Former CIA Director John Brennan echoed Rubio’s remarks in a separate interview on “Meet the Press,” telling Todd, “I think it was pretty open that the Saudi government had issues with Jamal Khashoggi because of his writings. So I wouldn’t be surprised if U.S. diplomats, intelligence officers, were mindful about the potential for something to happen to Khashoggi.”
When the conversation between Todd and Rubio shifted to Trump’s reluctance to cut off $110 billion in arms trade with the country, Rubio said there are crucial, strategic “advantages to [United States’] arms sales [to Saudi Arabia] that have nothing to do with money.”
One, Rubio explained, mirroring Trump, is that the Saudis would simply purchase their arms elsewhere — from Russia, for example — if the United States backed away. A second is that selling arms to the Saudis, per Rubio, allows the United States to gain leverage over them, since they would require replacement parts and training to use the arms.
Despite those advantages, Rubio told Todd the deal with Saudi Arabia should be targeted.
“If this is proven to be true, there is going to be a response from Congress. It’s going to be nearly unanimous. It’s going to be swift. And it’s going to go pretty far. That could include arms sales, but it could include a bunch of other things as well,” he said.
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Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to LifeZette.