Trump reiterates standing by Saudi crown prince

UN says two missile launchers found in Yemen appear to be from Iran.
Wednesday 12/12/2018
US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are seen during the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on November 30. (Reuters)
US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are seen during the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on November 30. (Reuters)

WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he stood by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince despite pleas from US senators for Trump to condemn the kingdom’s de facto ruler following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi’s death more than two months ago.

“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office.

Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by the prince, known as MbS, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”

Some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent MbS from becoming king, sources close to the royal court have told Reuters, and believe that the United States and Trump could play a determining role.

“I just haven’t heard that,” Trump said. “Honestly, I can’t comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I’ve heard that he’s very strongly in power.”

While Trump has condemned the murder of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist who was often critical of MbS, he has given the benefit of the doubt to the prince with whom he has cultivated a deep relationship.

Trump again reiterated on Tuesday that the “crown prince vehemently denies” involvement in a killing that has sparked outrage around the world.

Trump has come under fierce criticism from fellow Republicans in the Senate over the issue, particularly after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed them. Last month, the CIA assessed that MbS ordered the killing, which Trump called “very premature.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and other senators who have supported the US-Saudi alliance over the years have said that Trump should impose more sanctions after a first round targeted 17 Saudis for their alleged role in the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

As the Senate considers this week a joint resolution condemning the crown prince for the killing, something that the president would have to sign or veto if passed by Congress, Trump said he would meet with senators.

Trump said he hoped senators would not propose stopping arms sales to the Saudis, deals he has doggedly fought to save ever since the gruesome details of Khashoggi’s murder were leaked by Turkey.

“And I really hope that people aren’t going to suggest that we should not take hundreds of billions of dollars that they’re going to siphon off to Russia and to China,” Trump said.

Trump said he could abide by legislation ending US support for the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen.

“Well, I’m much more open to Yemen because frankly, I hate to see what’s going on in Yemen,” Trump said. “But it takes two to tango. I’d want to see Iran pull out of Yemen too. Because – and I think they will.”

UN: Two missile launchers found in Yemen appear to be from Iran

Two launch units for anti-tank guided missiles recovered by a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen appear to have been manufactured in Iran during 2016 and 2017, according to a confidential United Nations report seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres does not specifically state whether the discovery of the units in Yemen was a violation of a UN resolution that took effect in January 2016. It prevents Iran from importing and exporting arms or related materiel unless the Security Council has given approval.

“The Secretariat found that they had characteristics of Iranian manufacture and that their markings indicated production dates in 2016 and 2017,” Guterres said in his biannual report to the Security Council on the implementation of sanctions on Iran.

“The Secretariat also examined a partly disassembled surface-to-air missile seized by the Saudi-led coalition and observed that its features appeared to be consistent with those of an Iranian missile,” he wrote.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-allied Houthis. The Houthis have been subject to a separate arms embargo since 2015. Iran has repeatedly denied supplying weapons to the Houthis.

The UN Security Council is due to discuss the latest report from Guterres on Wednesday, diplomats said.

The United States has loudly and unsuccessfully pushed the United Nations to hold Iran accountable over accusations it is meddling in the wars in Syria and Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East. 

Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo is scheduled to attend the Security Council meeting on Wednesday.

In February Russia vetoed a Western attempt to have the Security Council call out Tehran in a resolution on Yemen.

Guterres also said the United Nations had examined the debris of three more ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia on March 25 and April 11, 2018, and found “specific key design features consistent with those of the Iranian Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missile.” It could not determine if it was a violation as it was unknown when they were transferred to Yemen, however.

He said the United Nations “is still working on establishing the production date range of guidance subcomponents with the assistance of the foreign manufacturers.”

In his June report, Guterres said debris from five missiles fired at Saudi Arabia by the Houthis since July 2017 “share key design features with a known type of missile” manufactured by Iran and some components were manufactured in Iran, but also could not determine when they were transferred to Yemen.

Most UN sanctions imposed on Iran were lifted in January 2016 when the UN nuclear watchdog confirmed that Tehran fulfilled commitments under a nuclear deal with Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States. But Iran is still subject to a UN arms embargo and other restrictions.

The UN sanctions and restrictions on Iran are contained in a resolution that also enshrines the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew Washington from in May. European powers have been scrambling to salvage the deal.

In the UN report, Guterres called on all countries to “ensure the continuity of this agreement that is fundamental to regional and international peace and security.” 

(AW and Reuters)