US officials say degrading Saudi ties would be 'grave mistake'
WASHINGTON D.C. - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that downgrading US ties with Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi would be a mistake for national security and would not push Saudis in a better direction at home.
After repeated calls from members of Congress for a strong US response, Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were briefing the US Senate behind closed doors about Saudi Arabia and the Oct. 2 murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as well as the civil war in Yemen.
Some US lawmakers have called for a strong US response to Khashoggi's murder, including blocking arms sales and imposing sanctions beyond those that Washington slapped on 17 Saudis allegedly involved in the killing.
In a blog post Pompeo said: "The October murder of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading US-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the US and its allies," Pompeo wrote.
In his remarks for the briefing, which were released as it got underway, Mattis said that pulling back US military support in Yemen and stopping weapons sales to important partners would be misguided.
"Our security interests cannot be dismissed, even as we seek accountability for what President (Donald) Trump described as the "unacceptable and horrible crime" of Jamal Khashoggi's murder, a crime which "our country does not condone," Mattis said in his prepared remarks.
Pompeo made the case that the Kingdom is too important an ally to lose, citing the country's help to contain Iran in the region, secure democracy in Iraq and fight the Islamic State and other militant groups.
"The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East," he wrote. "Saudi Arabia, like the US - and unlike these critics - recognizes the immense threat the Islamic Republic of Iran poses to the world."
"The suffering in Yemen grieves me, but if the United States of America was not involved in Yemen, it would be a hell of a lot worse," said Pompeo.
"Abandoning Yemen would do immense damage to US national security interests and those of our Middle Eastern allies and partners."
Ending US military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which includes intelligence and target sharing, would actually lead to more deaths, Pompeo added.
"The Saudi-led coalition would not have the benefit of our advice and training on targeting, so more civilians would die," Pompeo said.
"Yemen's terrorist groups would enjoy safer havens."
And he warned lawmakers that a US drawdown would lead to a stronger Iran while reinvigorating both the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
"Try defending that outcome back home," he said.
Pompeo also said that the United States would provide an additional $131 million for food aide in Yemen and took another swipe at Iran.
"Iran's regime has no interest in easing Yemeni suffering; the mullahs don't even care for ordinary Iranians. Saudi Arabia has invested billions to relieve suffering in #Yemen. Iran has invested zero," he wrote on Twitter.
The nearly four-year long war in Yemen, which has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered the world's most urgent humanitarian crisis, is seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.