Donald Trump pushed by Republican senators to halt nuclear talks with Saudi Arabia
WASHINGTON — A group of Republican senators urged President Donald Trump on Wednesday to suspend negotiations with Saudi Arabia on a potentially lucrative atomic energy agreement following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Lawmakers led by Marco Rubio of Florida said in a letter to the president that they had reservations about the transfer of nuclear power technology even before the Oct. 2 slaying of Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. They told Trump that if his administration pushed ahead, they would work to block an agreement with Riyadh from securing congressional approval.
They noted their concern over Saudi Arabia’s years-long refusal to consider a nuclear energy agreement that would prohibit the kingdom from pursuing uranium enrichment and plutonium processing “that can bring a nation within weeks of producing a nuclear weapon.” The United Arab Emirates accepted the standard in a 2009 civil nuclear pact with the U.S.
The letter also was critical of the leadership of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, although the senators don’t mention him by name. Saudi Arabia has changed its narrative about Khashoggi’s killing several times, eventually admitting after repeated denials that Khashoggi died inside the consulate and only recently acknowledging that Turkish evidence shows his killing was premeditated.
“The ongoing revelations about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as certain Saudi actions related to Yemen and Lebanon, have raised further serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decisionmakers in Saudi Arabia,” according to the letter.
In addition to Rubio, the letter was signed by Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Todd Young of Indiana and Dean Heller of Nevada.
A National Security Council spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sharon Squassoni, a research professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, called the letter a “pretty minor request” given the seriousness of the allegations surrounding the death of the Khashoggi, a 59-year-old columnist for The Washington Post.
“Everything around Khashoggi’s murder calls into question how closely we should be aligning ourselves with Saudi Arabia,” she said.
He vanished after entering the consulate to pick up paperwork for his upcoming marriage. He had been living in self-imposed exiled in the U.S. and published columns that criticized the government of Prince Mohammed.
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