Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will likely execute anyone who can tie him to the murder of a dissident journalist that has rocked U.S. relations with the monarchy, Sen. Rand Paul predicted Monday.
“The 15 people who actually committed the killing, they will quickly execute them or shuffle them off somewhere never to be seen again,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters on a conference call. “Anybody that can possibly say the crown prince is involved will probably be executed.”
Saudi Arabian officials admitted to the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, after weeks of dissembling over an incident that outraged official Washington. Paul, one of the most strident critics of the Gulf ally in recent years, dismissed the Saudi claim that the crown prince is innocent of the murder, and renewed his call for a halt to arms sales to the country.
“Arms sales should not be considered a jobs program,” Paul said, a reference to President Trump’s desire to maintain the deals. “We've been too quiet because people have glossed over the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia in order to get some monetary benefit from either oil trade or arms trade.”
Saudi officials claim that Khashoggi was killed by accident after an interrogation in their consulate in Istanbul “developed in a negative way, leading to a fistfight.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir denied that the crown prince had any responsibility in the killing, even though some of his associates were involved.
[New: After Jamal Khashoggi disappeared, a Saudi agent left the consulate wearing his clothes]
“This is not based in fact,” the Saudi diplomat said Sunday in response to Paul’s allegations Sunday. “It’s just based on emotions and based on speculation.”
Paul countered that “it takes a lot of damn gall for Saudi Arabia, a dictatorship with 3,000 political prisoners held without trial, to lecture anyone in the U.S. on the presumption of innocence.”
The effort to distance MBS, as the crown prince is known, from the incident may be tied to the brewing investigation into whether Khashoggi’s killers should face U.S. sanctions for human rights violations.
“Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia,” Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker and ranking member Bob Menendez wrote to the administration last week.
Paul was the only member of the Foreign Relations panel who declined to sign the letter triggering that sanctions probe, because he expects the administration to stop short of sanctioning the crown prince directly.
“I think sanctions is a way of pretending to do something,” Paul told reporters Monday. “I don’t think sanctions will have any effect on Saudi behavior. the only one sanction that might work would be sanctioning the crown prince. And I think all the people advocating for sanctions won't go that far.”
Lawmakers involved in the sanctions push generally avoided targeting the crown prince by name, but Corker stipulated that he is not exempt from the threat.
“Whoever is responsible, no matter how high it is, we want them to be sanctioned,” the Tennessee Republican told the Washington Examiner when asked specifically about MBS.
Paul argued Monday that the U.S. should end military aid to Saudi Arabia “until the crown prince is no longer in charge of the regime.” But he said he would rethink his opposition to sanctions if the heir-apparent were put on the blacklist.
“Yeah, if there were sanctions of the crown prince, I would in all likelihood support that,” he said.