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Trump's Saudi support triggers congressional sanctions push

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Trump's Saudi support triggers congressional sanctions push

Washington — President Donald Trump's statement that he will not further punish Saudi Arabia for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a decision he largely based on the Saudis' efforts to boost oil production, has triggered new sanctions threats from the US Congress.

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"Congress will consider all of the tools at our disposal to respond, including requiring by law a determination on the role of [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman]," Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted late Tuesday.

Analysts said it remains unlikely that members of Congress will push for sanctions that target Saudi oil flows or energy investments in the US, but the precise measures and the length that Congress may go remain unclear.

"What form that will ultimately take is up for debate, but it starts with suspending arms sales and ending support for the intervention in Yemen," said Matt Reed, vice president of Foreign Reports, a Middle East consultancy.

In a statement Tuesday, Trump called Saudi Arabia a "great ally in our very important fight against Iran" and indicated that additional actions, outside the individual sanctions his administration imposed last week on the 17 Saudis accused of involvement in the killing, would needlessly damage US-Saudi relations. In a tweet Wednesday morning, Trump thanked Saudi Arabia for lowering oil prices.

"The tone and timing could not be worse," Reed said of Trump's support of Saudi Arabia. "The White House is practically daring Congress to get tough on Saudi Arabia."

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In his statement Tuesday, Trump said if Congress did pursue sanctions they must be "consistent with the absolute security and safety of America," suggesting that any congressional actions that may impact Saudi oil production would likely be vetoed.

"To the extent they have good ideas that further American national security, this administration will be happy to support them," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a radio interview Wednesday.

In a letter to Trump Tuesday, Senators Corker and Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, triggered an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of the Saudi crown prince's role in Khashoggi's killing. Trump will now be required by law to determine whether the crown prince was responsible and make a formal decision on imposing sanctions. The senators triggered a similar Magnitsky investigation last month.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Tuesday that there was growing bipartisan support for "serious sanctions" against Saudi Arabia. Last week, Graham and five other senators introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2018, which would suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and prohibit US refueling of Saudi aircraft engaged in the civil war in Yemen.

Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, said Congress could take up sanctions legislation during the lame duck session before the next Congress begins in January.

"Military spending and security support appear to be very much in the crosshairs, and additional sanctions on individuals could be, too," he said.

Richard Nephew, the principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the US State Department during the Obama administration, said Congress may consider sanctions targeting the crown prince, but said that path was uncertain due to the potential impact on Saudi politics.

He said Congress' limited calendar could also allow Saudi Arabia to "assuage concerns on Capitol Hill," which may temper the response from Congress.

-- Brian Scheid,

-- Edited by Annie Siebert,