Mike Pompeo accuses media, Congress of ‘caterwauling’ in Khashoggi killing reaction


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis said on Wednesday that downgrading U.S. ties with Saudi Arabia would be a mistake for national security and would not push Saudis in a better direction at home.

Pompeo and Mattis were briefing the U.S. Senate behind closed doors about Saudi Arabia and the Oct. 2 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as well as the civil war in Yemen.

“The October murder of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies,” Pompeo wrote in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal shortly before the briefing for U.S. senators.

Pompeo made the case that the Saudis are too important an ally to lose, citing Saudi Arabia’s help to contain Iran in the region, secure democracy in Iraq and fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other militant groups.

“The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East,” he wrote. “Saudi Arabia, like the U.S. — and unlike these critics — recognizes the immense threat the Islamic Republic of Iran poses to the world.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has insisted that there is not enough evidence to blame Saudi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in Khashoggi’s killing.

Few ‘unblemished partners’: Mattis

Mattis echoed Pompeo’s comments on Wednesday, according to remarks sent to reporters.

“I must note we are seldom free to work with unblemished partners … Our security interests cannot be dismissed, even as we seek accountability for what President Trump described as the ‘unacceptable and horrible crime’ of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder,” Mattis said.

Democrats and Republicans have accused Trump of ignoring U.S. intelligence that concluded the crown prince likely ordered the killing. Trump, in another apparent clash with his own intelligence agencies, as in the case of Russian election interference, has said the CIA can’t conclusively prove the crown prince approved the killing — a standard of proof not often available in the world of espionage.

“The CIA doesn’t say they did it,” Trump said on Nov. 22. “They do point out certain things. And in pointing out those things, you could conclude that maybe he did or didn’t.”

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives at Ministro Pistarini in Buenos Aires on Wednesday. It is unclear what kind of reception the crown prince will get from world diplomats and Argentinians with the G20 summit to take place this weekend. (G20 via Reuters)

On the subject of Yemen’s war, Pompeo said the United States would provide an additional $131 million for food aid.

The nearly four-year long war in Yemen, which has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, is seen as a proxy war between Saudia Arabia and Iran.

Pompeo recently recertified the effort, as required by Congress, indicating that the coalition was doing its best to limit civilian casualties despite the high-profile incident in which over 50 children were killed in August.

This week, a coalition of five aid groups urged the U.S. and others providing logistical and military support to the Saudi-led coalition to stop to avoid putting millions more at risk of starvation in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also led a blockade of Gulf country Qatar that has gone on for about 18 months.

In the wake of the Khashoggi killing, it has not been clear if the U.S. would push the Saudi-led coalition to end the embargo.

Both sides in the feud host vital U.S. military bases in the region. In Qatar, the al-Udeid air base in the desert outside Doha is home to the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command — charged with overseeing all Middle East operations — and bombers, refuelling planes and other aircraft critical to the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Bahrain, which supports the Saudis and U.A.E., hosts the U.S. 5th Fleet.

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