'Premature' to talk Saudi sanctions, says US amid calls to ban oil imports over Khashoggi killing
One day after Saudi Arabia admitted that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed during a fight inside its consulate, the US says it's still too early to comment on possible sanctions against Riyadh.
"It would be premature to comment on sanctions and premature to comment on really any issues until we get further down the investigation and get to the bottom of what occurred," US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday, at the start of a Middle East visit.
He went on to explain that he would still be meeting with Saudi Arabia for planned talks with his counterpart on joint efforts towards countering terrorist financing and curbing Iran's political and military influence.
Mnuchin said the visit to Riyadh is needed, as the White House is preparing to reimpose sanctions against Tehran early next month, after Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May. He added that he had no reason to believe that Riyadh wouldn't follow through with its commitment to make up for any global oil shortfall as Iranian exports are cut under the sanctions.
However, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) is among those who aren't happy with Mnuchin's apparent willingness to push Khashoggi's death to one side and continue talking oil with Riyadh as normal. Earlier on Sunday, he called for the US to ban Saudi oil imports over the journalist's death.
"The United States cannot allow this gross human rights violation to go unanswered," the Democratic senator said in a statement. "I am therefore calling for a ban on oil imports from Saudi Arabia until the highest levels of Saudi government are held accountable for their actions."
Heinrich also took aim at Donald Trump in his statement, saying that the US president "would rather embrace denials and cover-ups rather than hold those responsible accountable."
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told CNN on Sunday that he believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is behind the death of Khashoggi. “If he's gone forth and murdered this journalist, he's now crossed the line and there has to be a punishment and a price paid for that,” he said. “Do I think he did it? Yes, I think he did it,” he added, noting that there should be a “collective” response from Western countries if that is the case.
Although Trump largely held back his criticism of Riyadh following its Saturday admission, referring to it once again as a "great ally," he later decided he wasn't satisfied with the information that had been provided by Saudi Arabia after all - after the EU, France, and Germany did the same.
But while Washington still believes it's too early to talk sanctions against Riyadh, others are wondering why the White House seems to be giving Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt when it wasted no time implementing sanctions on Russia over the Sergei Skripal poisoning - even though no evidence is known to have been presented by British intelligence to prove that Moscow was behind it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin himself has even compared the Khashoggi and Skiripal cases. "There's no proof in regards to Russia, but steps are taken. Here, people say that a murder happened in Istanbul, but no steps are taken. People need to figure out a single approach to these kinds of problems," Putin said on Thursday.
But according to many analysts, journalists, and politicians, it's easy to see why Trump is being lax on Saudi Arabia – because of the $450 billion arms deal between the two countries. The US president has made no secret of its importance to him, repeatedly stating that he hopes Washington can keep the deal no matter what the outcome is in the Khashoggi case, and noting that there will be other ways to "punish" Riyadh than to take away the 600,000 jobs the deal is bringing to the country.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist who was critical of the Saudi royal family, was last seen on October 2 when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkey has claimed that a Saudi assassination squad killed him, while Riyadh said he died in a "fistfight" but has provided no evidence. It has also announced the detention of 18 suspects in the case, saying that an investigation is ongoing.
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