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Saudis slam Senate resolutions on crown prince, Yemen

December 17, 2018

Saudi Arabia lashed out at Washington Monday, saying the kingdom “rejects any interference in its internal affairs,” days after the U.S. Senate blamed the Saudi crown prince for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and demanded an end to U.S. support for the kingdom’s military campaign in Yemen.

The government in Riyadh “hopes that it is not drawn into domestic political debates in the United States of America,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement, expressing frustration with two critical resolutions pushed through by senators late last week.

The kingdom wishes to “avoid any ramifications on the ties between the two countries that have significant negative impacts on this important strategic relationship,” the foreign ministry said, according to a report circulated via the official Saudi Press Agency.

It was the first public pushback by Riyadh to the Senate resolutions passed Thursday.

While the measure to end U.S. support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen has little chance of becoming law analysts say it’s highly unlikely to pass the U.S. House and would almost surely be vetoed by President Trump if it did the move by the Republican-controlled Senate dealt an embarrassing rhetorical blow to the Trump administration.

Senators said the resolution was necessary to express Capital Hill’s frustration with the administration’s policy of backing American military engagement in Yemen, and that a second measure was warranted to publicly rebuke Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the death of Mr. Khashoggi, a U.S.-based dissident Saudi journalist who was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October.

The Senate unanimously passed its resolution formally declaring that the crown prince was “responsible” for Mr. Khashoggi’s death a determination the White House, State Department and Pentagon have not embraced publicly despite U.S. intelligence assessments pinning the blame on the de facto Saudi leader.

The Saudi statement on Monday said the kingdom “rejects the position expressed recently by the United States Senate, which was based upon unsubstantiated claims and allegations, and contained blatant interferences in the Kingdom’s internal affairs, undermining the Kingdom’s regional and international role.”

“The Kingdom categorically rejects any interference in its internal affairs, any and all accusations, in any manner, that disrespect its leadership, represented by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque and the Crown Prince, and any attempts to undermine its sovereignty or diminish its stature,” the statement added.

There was no immediate response from the White House.

The Khashoggi murder, which Turkish officials have claimed was carried out in Istanbul by a Saudi “hit squad,” triggered international outrage and damaged the 33-year-old crown prince’s reputation as an aggressive young Arab leader pushing economic reforms and progressive social changes in Saudi Arabia.

On a separate front, Riyadh has faced growing international criticism in recent months for civilian deaths and a humanitarian crisis surrounding the nearly four-year-old civil war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led military campaign is battling Iran-backed rebels.

Trump administration officials have sharply criticized last week’s Senate resolutions, saying the White House has no intention of shifting its policy toward Saudi Arabia and Yemen at a sensitive moment in the war’s trajectory.

U.N. officials have said a breakthrough in truce talks over the war may be close at hand, with warring parties agreeing at U.N.-mediated talks in Sweden last week to a cease-fire around the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, which is essential to the movement of aid and food into the country.

On a separate front, Trump administration officials have privately emphasized the importance of U.S.-Saudi relations within the context of a possible Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the coming months. Analysts say the White House sees Riyadh as key to backing such a process.

The Saudi statement on Monday said the developments in Washington “will not affect” the kingdom’s “leading role in the region, in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and internationally.”

“The Kingdom has and will continue to fulfill its pivotal role in the Arab and Muslim Worlds, as it holds a special place for Muslims around the world,” the statement asserted. “Such a status has made the Kingdom a pillar of stability in the Middle East and the world, and a cornerstone for the efforts to achieve peace and security regionally and globally.”

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