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Tim Kaine On Disappearance Of Jamal Khashoggi And Saudi Arabia


If agents of Saudi Arabia murdered Jamal Khashoggi, how should the U.S. respond to the killing of this Saudi journalist who lived in Virginia and wrote for The Washington Post and was often critical of the Saudi regime? Reports multiplied this week that the Turkish government has audio and video evidence of Mr. Khashoggi being tortured and killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, evidence that Turkish officials call shocking and disgusting. Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat of Virginia, is on the Senate armed services and foreign relations committee. Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

TIM KAINE: Scott, good to be with you on this important topic.

SIMON: Well, I have some questions that might be answered yes or no. And the first has to be - you see intelligence reports - are you convinced the Saudi government or its operatives assassinated Jamal Khashoggi?

KAINE: I'm not yet completely convinced. But there's enough corroboration out there that I think the burden of proof is on the Saudis to prove that they did not have anything to do either with harming, kidnapping or killing Jamal Khashoggi. The burden of proof is on them.

SIMON: If that's certified - I'll throw out some possibilities - should the U.S. close that big embassy in Riyadh? Should they close that big building on Virginia Avenue that's the Saudi Embassy? Should it break off relations?

KAINE: Well, Scott, first, I mean, this is a horrific alleged crime against a journalist. Our president attacks journalists as enemies of the people. But we need to stand up for journalists everywhere. Jamal Khashoggi's a Virginia resident. And you're right. There are a number of things that we could do. I'll tell you what I focus on. The first thing the Senate did this week - the members of the foreign relations committee, on which I sit - is we sent a letter to the president to trigger his review of whether this treatment of Jamal Khashoggi violates something called the Magnitsky Act. The Magnitsky Act allows the White House to put sanctions on individuals if they engage in human rights abuses. When we send the letter, it triggers a 120-day investigative period where the administration has to report back to Congress as to whether there have been a human rights violation and what they're going to do about it. That's number one.

Number two, we have been, in the Senate, increasingly concerned about Saudi Arabia and working to potentially cease arms sales to them. We had a vote a few months ago where 47 of us voted to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of their mishandling of the civil war in Yemen and the massive humanitarian crisis there. So a second thing that you are likely to see - I think Senators Paul and Murphy have talked about this - is additional action to block arms sales. President Trump reacted very negatively to that the other day. But...

SIMON: Well...

KAINE: ...You'll see that. And then the final one is U.S. support for the Saudis and the UAE on the war in Yemen. I think there's increasingly a desire to just cease U.S. support for the war in Yemen, which is a massive humanitarian disaster. So I think before we get into embassy diplomatic relations - we've had a longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia. But I think there are Magnitsky, arms sales and support for the war in Yemen - are probably the three areas where Congress is now most focused. And it is a dramatic change in attitude about Saudi Arabia as a result of this action.

SIMON: Well, Senator, what, though, about President Trump's argument that this would just cost U.S. jobs in America? And after all, the Obama administration wanted to sell hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, too, and, in fact, did from 2008 to 2015.

KAINE: Well, if the dollar almighty is all we care about, I can see why President Trump would say that. But if the United States...

SIMON: Well, I think he meant jobs, not just dollars...

KAINE: Well...

SIMON: ...But jobs held by Americans.

KAINE: Sure. But do we stand for anything, or don't we? That's the issue. Do we allow somebody to murder a journalist in the safe haven of a consulate and say, oh, well, you know, we get billions of dollars out of them - we'll turn a blind eye to it? I don't think that's who this country is. And I'm tired of this president's continuous attack on the press as enemies of the people. I think he's giving license to dictators around the world to have the same attitude about the press. And I think the United States needs to send a very clear message that, tweets from the Oval Office notwithstanding, we still believe in the First Amendment to the Constitution and protect journalists, especially people seeking safe haven to do business at consular offices.

SIMON: In 15 seconds left - the U.S. buys 8 percent of its oil from Saudi Arabia - should we cut that cord?

KAINE: We are cutting it. We're now a net oil exporter. We depended so heavily on them for so long. But the U.S. is an energy producer. And we have other sources now. It's - that is not necessary for us.

SIMON: Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, thanks so much for being with us.

KAINE: Absolutely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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