Trump should consider sanctions against Saudis over missing journalist: congressman

Congressman Joaquin Castro is calling on U.S. President Donald Trump investigate the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and possibly impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia.

President says Khashoggi's disappearance no reason to halt arms deal with the Kingdom

An undated recent file picture shows prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who has been missing since Oct. 2 and is feared dead. (AFP/Getty Images)
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Congressman Joaquin Castro is calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to investigate the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and possibly impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia. 

Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident journalist and U.S. resident, hasn't been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week.

Turkish officials say they suspect he was murdered by a Saudi hit squad, but offered no proof. The Washington Post, citing U.S. intelligence intercepts, reports that Saudi Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman had previously ordered an operation to try and lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia from the U.S. to detain him.

Trump says the U.S. is looking into the case, but expressed reservations over calls to withhold further U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying such a move "would be hurting us." Last year, the two countries announced a $110-billion arms deal.

Castro, a Democratic member of the House foreign affairs and House intelligence committees, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about U.S.-Saudi relations. Here is part of their conversation.

What would you like [Trump] to say to the Saudis?

I hope that he is tough on Saudi Arabia, that he offers any United States help to Turkey in the investigation and ultimately, I think perhaps, the United States Congress and the administration should consider treating what happened here in the same way that we treated the Russian operatives who in Britain went over there and basically attacked Russians on British soil.

And that means looking at the possibility of sanctions.

The Washington Post reported that the United States, its intelligence system, had intercepted Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure Mr. Khashoggi from the United States to Saudi Arabia in order to detain him. ... If that's true, if that was intercepted, did the United States have a responsibility to warn him that this might happen?

I've not been briefed on what may or may not have been known, but I do think that consistent with prior policy directives in prior administrations, if the United States has information about a permanent resident ... of the United States who may have been kidnapped or seriously injured or killed, then I think that person should have been warned.

U.S. President Donald Trump looks at a defence sales chart with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House on March 20. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

There are other stories about just how close Donald Trump himself and his family, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, how closely tied they are to Saudi Arabia through business deals and business arrangements. ... What do you make of that relationship between the Trumps, the Trump family, the Kushner family and the Saudi royal family?

It does appear that President Trump and his family have grown very close to the Saudi royal family to the Crown prince.

And it's also no secret that this president tends to play favourites with world leaders with whom he's close to and with countries that he does business in.

There is a perception that Mohammed bin Salman has the United States, has the White House, on its side, and that may add to [Saudi Arabia's] feelings that it can act with impunity. Would you agree with that?

It certainly could, and that's why it's important that I think President Trump send a strong message to [Salman] that the United States is going to re-examine the relationship if it continues to do things like this, and also if it continues to target civilians in Yemen in a way that has been horrific in its own sense.

But given all we're talking about — the business relationship with the Trump family, the trade in the United States, the friendship that exists — how likely is it that we're going to hear that from Mr. Trump?

I would doubt that the president is going to be very forthright about his business relationships at this point unless Congress or ... a special prosecutor or somebody else really digs in and finds out those things.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Yemeni Tawakkol Karman holds a picture of Khashoggi during a demonstration in front of the Saudi Arabian consulat in Istanbul on Oct. 5. (Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images)

And do you think, in the meantime, Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi royal court believes they can act with impunity, that the United States has its back?

I think it's not only the Crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

Authoritarian leaders around the world right now, I think, feel as though the United States is more disengaged from the world. And they feel as though nobody is minding the shop and they can target more freely political opponents and those with whom they disagree.

Do you think that Donald Trump's declaration that journalists are the enemies of the people might add to the danger that someone like Mr. Khashoggi might be in?

When the president of the United States is seen by other world leaders as attacking the press in a country that is known for its freedom of press ... I've got to think that for many of them, they see it as a green light to mistreat their own citizens or their own journalists.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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