Trump suggested on Saturday that the crown prince [Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS] was a stabilizing force in Saudi Arabia, despite the view of critics who note his government’s slaughter of civilians in Yemen, crackdown on dissent and jailing of political opponents.
“He’s a strong person. He has very good control,” Trump said. “He’s seen as a person who can keep things under check, I mean that in a positive way.”
In deciding how to deal with the Saudi matter, Trump has faced conflicting advice from his advisers. His hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, has emphasized his view that the U.S.-Saudi relationship is important to containing Iran, said advisers. Kushner has also stressed the importance of keeping a strong rapport with the Saudis.
Republican Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), however, has told Trump that if he doesn’t punish the Saudis, they won’t respect him.
A key consideration in the administration’s mind, according to Republican Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), is the belief that the crown prince can salvage Kushner’s stalled peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians. “A lot of the Middle East peace plan is based upon their support. They feel like they have a lot of equity there,” Corker said.
CIA officials have listened to an audio recording that Turkish officials say proves the journalist [Jamal Khashoggi] was killed and dismembered by the Saudi team, according to people familiar with the matter. If verified, the recording would make it difficult for the United States to accept the Saudi version that Khashoggi’s death was effectively an accident. Officials agreed to speak for this article on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.
This tension has put a particularly bright spotlight on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom Trump sent to Ankara and Riyadh this past week to manage the ballooning controversy. Pompeo and State Department officials have gone out of their way to deny that the top diplomat listened to audio provided by the Turks. “I’ve heard no tape, I’ve seen no transcript,” Pompeo told reporters late this past week.
By not reviewing those materials, the top U.S. diplomat is not in an obvious position to refute or confirm the Saudi account, said diplomats familiar with the situation.
“If Secretary Pompeo was offered to listen to the audio recording, he was smart to say no,” said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “You can’t unlisten to it, and once you listen to it, you can’t say certain things.” [Continue reading…]