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Where U.S.-Saudi Relations Stand Following The Killing Of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi


Republicans in Congress are reacting to President Trump's extraordinary statement on the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. It was in response to the CIA's assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Yesterday the president signaled he would not take strong action against Saudi Arabia or the crown prince. And some Republicans say that sends a dangerous message to autocrats. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker tweeted he never thought he would see a day that the White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.


BOB CORKER: It was as if they were writing a press release for Saudi Arabia and not for the United States. And it was unnecessarily provocative.


Another Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham - usually a strong ally of President Trump - was also critical of the president's response, speaking here on FOX News.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: Here's what I believe - Saudi Arabia needs us more than we need them. That's not too much to ask - an ally not to butcher a guy in a consulate. This is not World War II. So I'm not going to look away at what MBS did.

SHAPIRO: Graham tweeted that he believes there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia. And that's where I want to bring in our next guest. Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and served in multiple Republican administrations. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.


SHAPIRO: Do you think Lindsey Graham is right that there is strong bipartisan support for sanctioning Saudi Arabia?

HAASS: Oh, absolutely. There's always been a tradition in American foreign policy that we support values as well as interests. This is obviously an affront to our values. And the administration is just outside the foreign policy mainstream. So I actually think yeah - I think Congress will come together and penalize the Saudis, probably placing some constraints on arms sales and intelligence.

SHAPIRO: And so if Congress, on the one hand, punishes Saudi Arabia - as it is able to - and, on the other hand, President Trump says the relationship continues as normal, do you think that is a deterrence to Saudi Arabia or other countries that might want to take actions like this in the future?

HAASS: Well, that's the real risk. If the president essentially carries the day, and the Saudis and others get the message that it's business as usual, it will in no way rein in this - at times impulsive, even reckless - young leader of Saudi Arabia who is prosecuting, among other things, a disastrous war in Yemen. And for people like Mr. Putin and others, it reinforces the message that they can kill journalists or dissidents with impunity, and they won't pay a price in their relationship with the United States.

SHAPIRO: By your estimation, would sanctions from Congress without a firm statement of condemnation from the president be enough to deter someone like Mohammed bin Salman from doing something like this in the future?

HAASS: Probably not. Under our Constitution and under our political tradition, most of the initiatives - most of the discretion in American foreign policy lies with the president - lies with the executive branch. So, again, Congress is limited in what it can do. It can create certain obstacles. But, again, if this president is determined to carry out what you might call an amoral foreign policy, where we ignore things like murdering journalists, kidnapping prime ministers - like the Saudis did with the prime minister of Lebanon - carrying out atrocities in Yemen, it will be very difficult for Congress - short of passing legislation where they would say no funds in this or any other act can go to Saudi Arabia for certain purposes. We would stop the export of arms. But that would be a major step.

SHAPIRO: I can think of instances where the U.S. has turned a blind eye to bad action by allies in the interest of preserving the relationship - but never anything quite like this. How out of the ordinary is this?

HAASS: Well, you're right. During the Cold War, the United States often overlooked people who were on our side of the Cold War - essentially we opted for interest over values. And even in - what? - 1989 at the time of Tiananmen Square, China - even though it wasn't anything but an ally, it was something of a partner against the Soviet Union. And we didn't overlook Tiananmen Square, but we didn't allow the repression of protests and the killing of students to totally torpedo the relationship. And, again, what this shows you is there's something of a balance.

What's so striking about what the administration is doing is they seem to be 100 percent rejecting the importance of values, of human rights and describing American foreign policy in terms almost as if the United States was running a business rather than a foreign policy. We talk about the value of arms sales, commercial ties. And that's what's so different here. It's the narrowness of how we're defining the importance of this relationship.

SHAPIRO: Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Thanks for joining us today.

HAASS: Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving.

SHAPIRO: Same to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANIK KHAN SONG "DON'T BEHAVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.