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World Watches As More Details About The Khashoggi Case Come To Light


President Trump has acknowledged what increasingly seems like reality. A reporter asked him, do you believe a Saudi journalist, U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, is dead?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you believe Jamal Khashoggi is dead?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It certainly looks that way to me. It's very sad. It certainly looks that way.

INSKEEP: This marks one of the few occasions upon which the president has endorsed the broadly accepted outlines of the case. Ever since The Washington Post writer walked into a Saudi Consulate and vanished in Turkey, suspicion has fallen on the Saudi government, yet the president has suggested conspiracy theories about who could be responsible for a gruesome murder and said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was being held guilty until proven innocent. What does the U.S. approach really mean for the Saudis and for Americans and for freedom of the press? We'll talk that through with Victoria Nuland of the Center for a New American Security. She's on the line. She was assistant secretary of state under President Obama, ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush. Good morning.

VICTORIA NULAND: Good morning, Steve. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: Watching from the outside, what does President Trump's goal appear to be?

NULAND: Well, I think it's important that President Trump seems to have acknowledged reality, as you said in your opening, that this was a grisly murder of a journalistic critic of the Saudi regime and that there are going to have to be consequences for this kind of extraterritorial illegal act.

INSKEEP: But the president also said, unfortunately, this has captured the attention of the world - that's a quote from yesterday - making it clear, it seems, that it - this isn't really something he wants to be dealing with; he would rather be making friends with the Saudis.

NULAND: Yeah. It's highly inconvenient for the president's policy towards Saudi Arabia. But I think what's interesting here is this has been going on for almost two weeks now, as you know, Steve, and it has really captured the concern of the American people - not just members of Congress, but all across the country, people are watching this case, and Americans don't want to be on the side of grisly killers. They want their country to stand for rule of law, and the president's having to grapple with that now.

INSKEEP: Would any U.S. administration have to do something like this? Maybe they'd be less clumsy. Maybe they'd be less overt about it. But the Saudis are an ally, and they do things that Americans strongly disapprove of. And even the administrations you were part of found ways to look the other way, didn't they?

NULAND: You know, it's always been a complex relationship with the Saudis. As you say, they play a large role in the region. We often collaborate on things. But we've also had very severe problems in the past, and we've had to deal with them. And there are lots of points of leverage in the relationship that we can and should be using. It is a real extra bridge when you have a regime murdering its critics in another country.

INSKEEP: Extra leverage - OK, so what is practical? What could the Trump administration do without harming U.S. interests, given that the U.S. leans on the Saudis for certain things?

NULAND: Well, it's a very good step that Secretary Mnuchin has decided not to go to the big investment conference that the king and the crown prince are holding next week, and that has also encouraged lots of U.S. business to stay away. The kingdom is trying to present itself as a reforming, opening, democratizing country where people should put their money, but they can't have that reputation and also be killing their critics, so it's a very good sign that we are denying them that big party.

There are also questions on the Hill and elsewhere whether we should be selling the kinds of lethal weapons that we're selling to the Saudi regime when they behave this way internationally, including the violence that they are responsible for in Yemen. So I think there will be a whole relook at the Saudi relationship. That said, we need to collaborate in Syria. We need to collaborate in terms of keeping the sea lanes open in the Gulf and other things. So it's a complex relationship, but we need to be quite serious about saying no to this kind of international violence.

INSKEEP: People are also asking questions, of course, about the influence of Saudi money in the United States. We hear elsewhere in the program today about Saudi investments in Silicon Valley, which seem to continue even if some Silicon Valley executives are not going to be going to this big event that you described. There's Saudi funding to think tanks in Washington. Did you guys at the Center for New American Security (ph) - have you had a debate about whether to take Saudi money at any point?

NULAND: We have a strong decision that we only take support from treaty allies of the United States or our European partners. We do not take any money from the Gulf or from other countries with dubious human rights records.

INSKEEP: Oh, so that's a hard no. Should other organizations in the United States follow a policy like that, do you think?

NULAND: I think all think tanks have to look hard at who is supporting them, whether they're private individuals or whether they're foreign governments. A lot of think tanks take money from the Chinese government and meter what they say about China as a result. I think that undercuts the legitimacy of your independent research, frankly.

INSKEEP: What about Saudi business investments? Should American companies think twice about those billions and billions of dollars that have to go somewhere?

NULAND: You know, on the business side, it's a matter of commercial interest both ways. But I do think people have to think hard about the money that they (unintelligible) and the strings that come with it.


NULAND: ...And - moral and otherwise.

INSKEEP: Victoria Nuland, thanks so much, really appreciate it.

NULAND: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: She is a former top State Department diplomat and chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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