Khashoggi's Disappearance Could Undermine U.S.-Saudi Relations

19 hours ago
Originally published on October 11, 2018 10:14 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. Kareem mentioned President Trump's relationship with Saudi Arabia. Speaking of that, the president is vowing to, quote, "get to the bottom of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi." This is the president speaking yesterday.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a bad situation. We cannot let this happen.

GREENE: Let's talk about this more with Ian Bremmer. He's a political scientist and also founder of the global political risk consultancy firm the Eurasia Group. Welcome back to the program.

IAN BREMMER: Sure. Happy to be here with you guys.

GREENE: So the president saying that he's not going to let this happen. It's a bad situation. But can you just give us the context here? What is President Trump and his administration's relationship with Saudi's crown prince?

BREMMER: Well, as you remember, the first trip that Trump made outside the United States wasn't to Canada or Mexico, traditionally what the U.S. president do, but uniquely to Saudi Arabia, where he was treated literally like a king. And of all the relations he has around the world, perhaps only Israel is closer both to Trump and to Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince in Saudi Arabia. So it would really be tough for Trump personally to do anything that would want to damage this relationship.

If there's one thing we know from Trump, it would really be confusing for him to allow a human rights abuse in another country to stop him from trying to take advantage of a pretty good relationship. You see what he's been saying about the North Korean supreme leader, for example. And in the same interview that you earlier presented, Trump also said that he wouldn't want to reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia because that would hurt the United States.

GREENE: But this is not just a human rights abuse. If this turns out to be true and Saudi Arabia actually killed a journalist on Turkish soil, I mean, Lindsey Graham, Republican senator, saying they would have to be hell to pay. Isn't that going to increase pressure on President Trump to do something here?

BREMMER: Well, I'm not sure it will. I mean, you know, the media was more outrage, I think, about Trump's individual meeting with President Putin in Helsinki and the press conference afterwards. I mean, even Fox News and a number of the Republicans were on the defensive around it. But we're not talking about that anymore. Look. I mean, you and I can say that it is horrific for the most popular Saudi journalist to be what looks like pretty clearly killed in a consulate abroad - in an American ally's consulate abroad, by the way. But I don't think that means that Trump is going to be pressured.

What is interesting, of course, is the ability of the Senate and others to constrain Trump's foreign policy when they feel that he's acting beyond the pale. It is significant. And in the same way that we've seen increases in sanctions against the Russians that Trump has attempted to slow walk, I think the same thing is likely to occur vis a vis Saudi Arabia. And that's going to be very interesting to watch over the coming months, especially because Trump is putting so much pressure on Iran after pulling out of the nuclear deal, the avowed enemy of Saudi Arabia, and Congress has been quite onboard with that. So these two things are going to come together.

BREMMER: Is the Saudi government known for intimidating their citizens who live abroad? Did this surprise you in some way?

BREMMER: It - again, it's gotten worse certainly, but he's been threatened before. You know, he was forced out of his job. He was defending a lot of his friends who were opponents of the Saudi regime. He has a lot of friends in the United States in high places. But there's no question that he was considered to be a real problem for the Saudis.

The Saudis overreacted to the Canadians when the Canadian government took umbrage at Saudi behavior. You will remember, of course, just a year ago, all of those Saudi princes that were detained in the Ritz Carlton. There were some reports of torture when that occurred, didn't stop the U.S.-Saudi relationship from being extremely strong. And again, I just point you to North Korea, I mean, Trump expressing his love for Kim Jong Un, who's by far the most criminal behavior we've seen in the world.

GREENE: Ian Bremmer, we'll have to stop there. Thanks so much for joining us. He is founder of the global political risk consultancy - the Eurasia Group. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.