(Denver, Colorado) — Three big headlines broke this week in Washington.
- Secretary of Defense Mattis: “No smoking gun” linking Saudi crown prince to Khashoggi killing (Reuters)
- Secretary of State Pompeo: There is no “direct reporting” showing [Saudi] crown prince ordered Khashoggi killing. (Politico)
- Senate defies White House on Saudi support in Yemen — “The Senate delivered a stunning rebuke to the Trump administration on Wednesday, voting overwhelmingly to advance a measure yanking U.S. support for Saudi-backed forces at war in Yemen. The 63-37 vote, in which 14 Republicans joined every Democrat in voting to move forward on the bipartisan Saudi resolution, came hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis failed to sway key undecided senators with an appeal to hold off lest they upset progress of nascent talks on a cease-fire in Yemen.” (Politico)
On Wednesday night, I was interviewed on Fox News about the debate raging in the Senate over the future of the U.S.-Saudi alliance, and the recent meeting our Evangelical Delegation had with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
The following is the transcript of the interview:
Shannon Bream, Fox News Anchor: Amid the wake of the initial furor on Capitol Hill aimed at Saudi Arabia in the wake of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Delegation of Evangelical leaders traveled to Riyadh and actually met with the Saudi Crown Prince. They talked to him about this. That group was led by our next guest, New York Times best-selling author — and author of the forthcoming novel, The Persian Gamble — Joel Rosenberg. Joel, good to have you with us tonight.
Rosenberg: Good to be with you, Shannon. Thank you.
Bream: Okay, so we see the pictures there of you all meeting. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, took a lot of heat from people for smiling and being in a picture with the Crown Prince around the time this was going on. You all were there, as well. You know people have concerns about you sitting down and having a conversation with him, as many report that U.S. intelligence has determined he does have a direct link. What can you tell us about your conversation with him?
Rosenberg: Sure, Shannon, happy to do it. As you know, because you and I have talked about it for the last several years, I’ve been invited as a novelist but also as an Evangelical leader to bring Delegations of Evangelical Christians to now four different Arab Sunni Muslim countries — Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and now Saudi Arabia. We were invited by the Saudis well before — months before — the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. We had accepted then, and in the midst of the whole furor — an understandable furor — over the horrific, sickening, ghastly murder of Khashoggi, we did consider not going. But we also believed this was the first time that the Saudis have ever invited Evangelical Christians to come and talk about issues important that are important to us, and to them. So, we continued forward. But we did begin our two-hour meeting with very direct, very frank questions about Khashoggi.
Bream: And did you feel like the answers that you got were to your satisfaction, that he wasn’t directly involved? Because I want to play a little something that Democratic Senator Dick Durbin had to say about what he’s heard so far.
[Video Clip] Senator Durbin: There are many of us who believe that this execution of Khashoggi in Istanbul could never have taken place without the knowledge and direction of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. That is a fact which this administration has never been willing to acknowledge, and we’re asked to accept at face value that this sort of murder took place without his knowledge. I don’t accept it.
Bream: And he’s not the only one not buying it, Joel.
Rosenberg: Right, and obviously my friend, Lindsey Graham, obviously feels very similarly. Look, let me tell you what he told us. The Crown Prince was very clear. He said this is a heinous crime. That’s the phrase he used — a heinous crime. He called it a terrible tragedy and crime, and he said that we have arrested people, we are prosecuting people, people will face justice for this. And he noted that when Iran or Russia or Turkey, when people are killed in those countries and the government has some involvement, or is perceived to have, he said, “Do people get arrested there? Do people get prosecuted? Do people get fired from senior positions? No — [but] I’m doing that.”
Now, I can’t tell you, Shannon, whether he was involved or not. He said he wasn’t. But what do we know right now? Right now, as you and I speak, we don’t have anyone in the CIA on the record saying that MBS — the Crown Prince — was definitely the one who ordered the hit. What we have are two people on the record, the Defense Secretary [James Mattis] and the former CIA Director now Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo, saying there is “no smoking gun” and no direct evidence. So, that’s all we have to go on.
What I’m concerned about it that the Senate is getting ready to overthrow, in a sense, the U.S.-Saudi relationship based on an analysis, not on hard data. And that is risky. The last time the U.S. tried to push aside a leader that they weren’t that friendly with for a season was [Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak, and we got the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. That was a huge mistake.
Bream: Yeah, and it’s a very delicate balance between human rights….
Rosenberg: It is.
Bream: ….and the U.S. being a moral compass for the world, and maintaining relationships that also benefit our national interest. Secretary Mattis said today, “We are seldom free to work with unblemished partners.” So, we’ll keep an eye on it. We know you will, as well. Come back, if you have an update. Great to see you, Joel.
Rosenberg: I appreciate it, Shannon.
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