A House Democrat will soon introduce legislation to punish Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — by trying to halt an impending nuclear deal with the country.
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Khashoggi, a US resident, was killed by Saudi officials inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul last month. That led to a major international outcry over his death, including from many in the US who wanted to see the Washington-Riyadh relationship curtailed.
but President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to jeopardize money coming into the United States, and some members of Congress privately worry that stopping weapons shipments to Saudi Arabia might negatively impact jobs.
So instead of doing that, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) wants to stop a major nuclear deal between the US and Saudi Arabia that’s been under negotiation for months, and which he has long railed against.
“I don’t think this bill would’ve passed prior to the events in Istanbul,” Sherman told me. “Now I think we have a chance.” It’s also very possible a Republican will co-sponsor the bill when it’s officially introduced in the next 10 congressional days.
The legislation would do three main things:
- Force Trump to submit a “123 Agreement,” or a set of rules that make it legal for the US to sell nuclear technology to another country, for congressional approval
- Force the administration to tell Congress that Saudi Arabia will abide by the agreement’s “Gold Standard” (more on that below) and an inspections agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog
- Require the administration to write reports on Saudi Arabia’s probe into Khashoggi’s murder and the state of human rights in the kingdom
Sherman’s bill could completely block Saudi Arabia’s plans to obtain nuclear technology from the United States, especially since there’s growing bipartisan support to reprimand Riyadh over Khashoggi.
It would come as a big blow to Saudi Arabia: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, more commonly known as MBS, launched a project on Monday to build his country’s first nuclear research reactor.
There’s also some bipartisan support to stop nuclear talks with Riyadh in the Senate.
Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), for example, have sent letters to Trump requesting he at least suspend negotiations with Saudi Arabia over the nuclear deal. It’s unclear if either of them will draft parallel legislation to the House version, although a spokesperson for Rubio’s office told me the senator “possibly” could consider a bill in the future. Markey’s office didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.
Since there’s energy on Capitol Hill for this idea, many experts say lawmakers should do what they can to scuttle a potential accord before the window closes.
“The US should suspend negotiations immediately,” Sharon Squassoni, a nuclear expert at George Washington University, told me.
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