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How The U.S. Could Sanction Saudi Arabia


If the U.S. decides to respond to the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, what are the options? This is what South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: What I would do - I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.

SHAPIRO: Of course Senator Graham can't impose sanctions on his own. But there are quite a few Democrats and Republicans in Congress already calling for punitive measures. For more on this, we are joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hi, Greg.


SHAPIRO: President Trump could impose sanctions. Is there any sign that he would do this either on his own or with Congress?

MYRE: At this point, no. Everything that he said - and he's addressed this several times as recently as today - has been, the Saudis are denying this; we're not going to make them guilty until proven innocent. He's stressing that Saudi Arabia is an ally, part of this U.S. coalition against Iran. So if he maintains that position, the overall response is - U.S. response is likely to be quite mild. But Congress and private business can do a lot and could force his hands in some ways.

SHAPIRO: You said it could do a lot. What specific sorts of things might they do?

MYRE: Well, for example, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has to sign off on arms deals. And for the past year, they've really sort of been raising a bit of a stink about the way Saudi Arabia has been conducting its war in Yemen with U.S. munitions and U.S. planes. If any new big arms contracts came before them, they could block it. There aren't any at the moment, but they could do that.

We have the Russian example last year where Congress overwhelmingly approved sanctions against Russia, and then the president was really forced to accept them - something related to the so-called Magnitsky Act where - which Congress, in fact, invoked just last week. So the president now has four months to either impose some sanctions or explain why he doesn't want to.

And private business is shying away from this big conference in Saudi Arabia. And it was just in March that the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was here touring a who's who of American companies - Google and Apple and Lockheed - trying to attract them. They may now shy away from Saudi.

SHAPIRO: So those are a lot of diplomat - those are a lot of economic options. What about diplomatic possibilities? What steps could the U.S. take there?

MYRE: There's really two things I think to keep an eye on. One is this war in Yemen. The Saudis are heavily dependent on the U.S. They fly F-15 airplanes to carry out airstrikes. The United States supplies the weapons, the maintenance, the training. If the U.S. threatened in any way to limit that cooperation, that would severely restrict the way the Saudis could carry out that war. And there have been high civilian casualties, and that's something the U.S. could press the Saudis on if they so chose.

The other is this boycott of Qatar, Saudi Arabia's neighbor. Well, Qatar is a very wealthy country. It's also a close U.S. ally - a major U.S. air base there. And so that is something the U.S. could stress and say, hey, play nice with Qatar; we want - these are all - we're both - we're all in this together. Let's end that boycott.

SHAPIRO: How's Saudi Arabia reacting to the possibility of these sanctions? What would their response likely be?

MYRE: Well, they came out this week and said that they would respond with greater action if some sorts of punitive measures are imposed on them. They could always pump less oil and try to drive up prices, although that goes very much against their - the way they've always done business.

Interesting factoid - the Energy Department announced just last month the U.S. has surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world's leading oil producer - about 11 million barrels per day. So Saudi oil is just not as important as it used to be. But this fracas is a reminder that relations are often strained. The thing you often hear when talking about the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is these are countries that share interests, not values.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Greg Myre, thank you.

MYRE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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