Saudi money talks

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi

by Amit Roy

THE utterly disgusting murder of the Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, inside his country’s consulate on October 2 has put the kingdom’s closest western allies, especially the UK, in an impossible situation.

After initially lying that he walked out of the consulate unharmed and then suggesting he died in a “fist fight”, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir has admitted to Fox News that the journalist’s death was indeed murder.

The minister said Khashoggi’s death was a “huge and grave mistake”, and added that the 18 people implicated in the killing would be punished appropriately.

“This was an operation that was a rogue operation,” he added. “This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had. They made the mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate and they tried to cover up for it.”

He denied the killing had been ordered by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. “There were not people closely tied to him.”

However, former MI6 chief Sir John Sawers said “all the evidence” indicates Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist who was critical of the current Saudi regime in general and Mohammed bin Salman in particular, was murdered on the orders of someone close to the crown prince.

It will be recalled Britain rolled out the red carpet for the crown prince in March, so what should be the country’s response now?

Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s arms expert, believes the UK should have halted arms sales to Saudi Arabia long ago over its military intervention in Yemen.

Liberal Democrats leader Sir Vince Cable commented: “The UK’s heavy reliance on Saudi Arabia for arms sales is embarrassingly compromising in these circumstances.

“The government should have already suspended arms export licences to Saudi Arabia given the outrages in Yemen. This reinforces the argument for loosening the bonds to the regime.”

But the UK reaction probably will be similar to that of the US, where president Donald Trump argued that halting arms deals would “hurt us more than it would hurt them”.

The UK has used standard arms licences to approve more than $6.4 billion (£4.9bn) in arms, including advanced jets and munitions, to Saudi Arabia since the start of the war in Yemen in 2015.

Labour would suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Barry Gardiner, shadow international trade secretary, has stated. “We must look very carefully again at the relationship we have with Saudi Arabia.”

He acknowledged there were a “lot of jobs” in the UK linked to the trade, but said “this is about who we are as a country”.

“We have a thriving defence industry and, of course, this would be a hit to that industry,” Gardiner, the Brent North MP, admitted.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, tweeted: “The Saudi lies and impunity must stop here.”

It is unlikely, however, that a Labour government would act any differently to the ruling Conservatives.

In a joint statement, the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian and Germany’s Heiko Maas said: “Nothing can justify this killing and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Defending freedom of expression and a free press are key priorities for Germany, the United Kingdom and France. The threatening, attacking or killing of journalists, under any circumstances, is unacceptable and of utmost
concern to our three nations.”

Now that he is no longer foreign secretary, Conservative MP Boris Johnson has used his newspaper column to condemn the Saudis and compared the killing of Khashoggi
with the attempted assassination, allegedly by the Russians, of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

“In the Salisbury atrocity and the Khashoggi murder we therefore seem to have events of a type: statesponsored plots to execute opponents on foreign soil, where the very outlandishness of the modus operandi is intended to send a terrifying public warning to every expatriate journalist or dissident who dares to oppose the regime.

“This cannot become a pattern. We cannot just let it pass.

“Yes, of course our relations with Russia and with Saudi Arabia are very different. We have crucial commercial and security partnerships with Saudi Arabia…”

This is crucially the point. As the Brexit secretary Dominic Raab pointed out: “We are not throwing our hands in the air and terminating the relationship with Saudi Arabia, not just because of the huge number of British jobs that depend on it, but also because if you exert
influence over your partners you need to be able to talk to them.”

The problem is that in dealing with the Russians over the Skripals and the Saudis over Khashoggi, Britain cannot be seen to be adopting different moral standards.

Within Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi’s murder might trigger changes. The author Robert Lacey, a Saudi expert, has speculated that Mohammed bin Salman might have to be replaced
as crown prince. The irony is that he has many enemies because he was seen as a “reformer”.