Daniel Larison

Pompeo’s North Korea Fantasy

Mike Pompeo, CIA director (Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons)

Mike Pompeo has written an article for Foreign Affairs that is supposed to outline the Trump administration’s bankrupt Iran policy, but as an added bonus he reminds us that their North Korea policy remains hopelessly unrealistic:

When considering a future North Korea deal that is superior to the JCPOA, we have described our objective as “the final, fully verified denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as agreed to by Chairman Kim Jong Un.” “Final” means that there will be no possibility that North Korea will ever restart its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs—something the JCPOA did not provide for with Iran. “Fully verified” means that there will be stronger verification standards than were required under the JCPOA, which, among other weaknesses, did not require inspections at key Iranian military facilities. The exact contours of a North Korea agreement remain to be negotiated, but “final” and “fully verified” are centerpieces on which we will not compromise [bold mine-DL].

We see here that the Trump administration remains wedded to an unachievable maximalist goal. North Korea is not going to agree to the elimination of its nuclear arsenal, and it certainly isn’t going to agree to a “final” end to their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The problem isn’t just that the “exact contours” of such an agreement “remain to be negotiated,” but that North Korea has no intention of agreeing to any of the things that Pompeo keeps falsely claiming that Kim has already agreed to. Pompeo is making it quite clear that the administration “will not compromise” on demands that North Korea will never accept, so he may as well be announcing that the administration’s North Korea policy has already failed on its own terms. If you ask me, that doesn’t seem “superior to the JCPOA.”

The Trump administration’s false and misleading claims about the JCPOA have become a major part of their rhetoric about their North Korea diplomacy. If the JCPOA, the most successful nonproliferation agreement in decades, is a “terrible” deal, that considerably raises the bar for any agreement with North Korea. The Iran hawks in the administration loathe the nuclear deal for other reasons, and so they say that the agreement was inadequate while simply making things up about it. For instance, Pompeo says that the JCPOA “did not provide” for making Iran unable to “restart” a nuclear weapons program, which ignores that the deal makes it practically impossible for Iran to do just that. The JCPOA has the most extensive and intrusive verification measures of any nonproliferation agreement to date, so faulting the nuclear deal for its supposedly weak verification shows that the Trump administration doesn’t understand what the deal does and doesn’t grasp why it is absurd to expect to get North Korea to agree to an even more stringent standard. Pompeo also conveniently fails to acknowledge that North Korea is no longer a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), so it is unlikely to submit to inspections from the IAEA that Iran was willing to permit. Furthermore, if Iran was unwilling to open up every site to inspections for security reasons, we can only imagine how much more resistant North Korea would be to that idea.

The current administration has rejected and reneged on the nuclear deal in spite of consistent Iranian compliance because they insist on Tehran’s total capitulation, and they expect the same capitulation from North Korea. They aren’t going to get it, and continuing to insist on it jeopardizes whatever genuine diplomatic progress the two Koreas have been making on their own. The administration has trapped itself by saying that any deal they make with North Korea will be better than the JCPOA, but there is no chance of that happening. First, North Korea would have to give up far more than Iran did, and the U.S. and its allies have less leverage with North Korea than the P5+1 had with Iran. Second, the administration has already shown with its reneging on the JCPOA that the U.S. can’t be trusted to honor its agreements. Third and most important, North Korea is already a nuclear-weapons state, and it isn’t going to abandon their arsenal when its leaders believe this is essential to their security and the survival of the regime.

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The Relationship with Saudi Arabia No Longer Serves U.S. Interests

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman believed to have ordered Khashoggi kidnapping (Al Arabiya screenshot)

Walter Russell Mead’s recommendations for how to handle Saudi recklessness are typically myopic:

But to do what the Iran-deal chorus and the Erdogan and Muslim Brotherhood apologists want—to dissolve the U.S.-Saudi alliance in a frenzy of righteousness—would be an absurd overreaction that plays into the hands of America’s enemies. It could also stampede the Saudis into even more recklessness.

It is difficult to see how downgrading the U.S.-Saudi relationship could possibly “play into the hands” of our enemies when the Saudi government has been working overtime to play into the hands of their rivals at the expense of our interests. The war on Yemen has not made Saudi Arabia and the UAE more secure, it has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis while failing to achieve any of its objectives, it has strengthened Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and it has led to a modest increase in Iranian influence in the country. The war has implicated the U.S. in coalition war crimes and made us an accomplice to the creation of a famine that could threaten the lives of 13 million people. The Qatar crisis is another Saudi-led blunder that has managed to deepen Qatar’s ties with Turkey and Iran while fracturing the GCC and creating a massive headache for Washington. The U.S. has never been in any danger of overreacting to Saudi crimes and blunders. At the very least, the U.S. shouldn’t be in the business of enabling them, and ideally it would be criticizing and opposing them.

By any measure, the signature policies of the current Saudi leadership over at least the last three and a half years have been bad for U.S. interests and America’s reputation, and they have failed on their own terms as well. The Saudi government has not done anything significantly constructive or helpful for the U.S. in at least the last decade, but it has been racking up quite the list of costly, destructive errors in that same period. This so-called “alliance” is bringing the U.S. nothing but problems, grief, and liabilities, and it yields hardly any discernible benefits. Demands to reassess the U.S.-Saudi relationship are not the product of a “frenzy of righteousness,” but come out of a sober calculation of what the Saudi relationship costs the U.S. versus what it gains us. In Mead’s flawed reckoning, the U.S. should stick with a bad client no matter what. That’s not even a serious attempt at analysis. It’s just mindless support of a corrupt status quo.

Mead continues:

To restore balance and sobriety to its foreign policy, Saudi Arabia needs to calm down, and only the U.S. can provide the assurances to make that possible.

This gets things exactly backwards. U.S. assurances have encouraged the Saudi government and Mohammed bin Salman in particular to pursue one reckless policy after another in the confidence that Washington’s support will never be withdrawn. U.S. support for the war on Yemen ostensibly began as an effort to “reassure” the Saudis and Emiratis that the U.S. could be relied on. Three and a half years later, we can see what a horrible mistake it was to reassure these reckless clients that they could count on our backing. The U.S. has been endlessly providing assurances to the Saudis and other clients in the region, and they have understandably interpreted this as a blank check to do as they please. There won’t be anything like “balance and sobriety” in Saudi foreign policy until the architects of the current disasters are forced to pay a significant price for their blunders, and the U.S. has considerable leverage to extract that price.

The fatal weakness in Mead’s column is his failure to propose a single action that the U.S. might take that might change Saudi behavior for the better. He says that the Saudi government needs to “calm down,” but never spells out what that means. If they refrain from assassinating critics in their overseas consulates, will that be sufficient to satisfy Mead? Does he think they should stop doing other things? We have no way of knowing, because he doesn’t bother to offer any specific suggestions. He concludes vaguely by saying that Pompeo “must give Saudi authorities the confidence that sober and sensible policies will bring continuing American support for the kingdom’s independence and reform,” but if there are no consequences for pursuing reckless and senseless policies what incentive does Mohammed bin Salman have to change course? Mead’s argument amounts to calling for a slap on the wrist for murder and then getting back to what I’m sure he would call business as usual. It’s the wrong response with feeble supporting arguments to back it up.

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The Saudi Government Has No Credibility

Crown Prine Mohammed bin Salman. (U.S. Department of State)

CNN reports that the Saudi government will acknowledge that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate during “interrogation” (i.e., torture):

The Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong, one that was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey, according to two sources.

One source says the report will likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and transparency and that those involved will be held responsible.

Two weeks ago, this might have seemed like a plausible explanation, but based on what we have learned since the murder there are very good reasons to doubt that this is really what happened. The Saudis have taken all this time to concoct their cover story, but it doesn’t line up with the evidence that Turkish police and media have already put together. If the killing was an accident and the plan was to abduct Khashoggi rather than kill him, that doesn’t explain the presence of the forensics expert who was apparently called in to dismember the body. The Post reported on his involvement in the crime last week:

One of the first people to identify Tubaigy as a Saudi forensics expert this week was Qutaiba Idlbi, a Syrian entrepreneur who says he has consulted with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command on counterterrorism projects in recent years.

Idlbi, who was born in Saudi Arabia and who now lives in Washington, D.C., said he was an acquaintance of Khashoggi’s and started posting to Twitter pictures he found of the 15 — some in Saudi military garb and brandishing weapons — in hopes of helping to pressure Saudi Arabia to release Khashoggi.

Idlbi said that what he began to find, however, quickly made him lose hope that Khashoggi might still be alive. “It really hit me with Tubaigy, he’s literally the guy who is sent in to deal with the bodies,” said Idlbi [bold mine-DL].

Reports in Turkish media make it clear that Tubaigy had already been called to Istanbul almost as soon as Khashoggi entered the building:

The Sabah report suggested that Tubaigy departed for Istanbul from Riyadh on a Gulfstream jet that, according to flight records reviewed by The Post, left just nine minutes after Khashoggi entered the country’s diplomatic compound in Turkey [bold mine-DL].

There would be no need to bring in someone like this unless the intention from the start was to kill Khashoggi and make the evidence disappear.

Saudi officials, the crown prince, and the king have denied any involvement in or knowledge of Khashoggi’s death, and for the last two weeks they have absurdly maintained that he left of his own accord. They have repeated those lies at the highest levels to our government and the entire world. Now they are spinning another version of events that doesn’t add up. If the Saudi government was willing to lie so blatantly for weeks about their responsibility for the murder, why should anyone believe what they say about the circumstances of the murder? It strains credulity that so many well-connected members of the Saudi security services were acting without orders from the crown prince, and so we have to dismiss this as another lie designed to cover for Mohammed bin Salman. The Trump administration and the Turkish government may end up going along with this lie, but they will be wrong to do so.

The belated Saudi admission that they killed Jamal Khashoggi doesn’t change very much. The Saudi government murdered a prominent critic inside a diplomatic mission in another country. They can claim that it was accident, but they were still at a minimum engaged in the torture and abduction of a peaceful and relatively mild critic. Whether they are blowing up school buses full of Yemeni kids or murdering their own citizens, we know that the Saudi government never tells the truth about its crimes and only admits to part of what they have done after coming under intense scrutiny. It is important that media outlets and Saudi Arabia’s Western patrons keep up the pressure that has started to build over the last two weeks. There should still be serious consequences for the Saudi government, beginning with a halt of all arms sales and the end of all military assistance to the Saudi coalition in Yemen, and the crown prince himself should be held accountable for this murder and the numerous war crimes committed by the forces under his command.

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Yemen’s Famine Could Be ‘The Worst in 100 Years’

The BBC reports on the latest warnings about the dire humanitarian conditions in Yemen:

The United Nations is warning that 13 million people in Yemen are facing starvation.

It’s calling on the military coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, to halt air strikes which are killing civilians, and contributing to what the UN says could become “the worst famine in the world in 100 years”.

It can be difficult to fathom the sheer scale of Yemen’s catastrophe. The U.N. warns that 13 million people are facing starvation if conditions do not improve, and yet Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is not close to being the most urgent priority for the world’s governments. How many millions of people have to be at risk of starving to death before it is recognized as the most important issue in the world? What percentage of a country’s population has to be on the verge of dying from preventable causes before it holds the world’s interest?

Despite being potentially the worst humanitarian disaster in generations, Yemen’s plight is still ignored and neglected by almost everyone. If something good is to come from the recent surge in criticism of the Saudi government, I hope it will be to make everyone see what the Saudis and their allies have done to Yemen and then to do all that can be done to prevent the worst-case scenario from unfolding. Time has already run out for many tens of thousands of Yemenis who have died from preventable causes over the last three and a half years, and if things keep going as they have millions and millions more innocent people are at risk of joining them. Yemen’s population was estimated to be just under 27 million in 2015. The starvation of 13 million people would mean that roughly half the population is on the verge of being wiped out by preventable hunger as a result of an indefensible war.

The starvation of the people of Yemen is a crime against humanity, and it needs to be described as such. It has many authors, but chief among them are the Saudi coalition and their Western patrons, including our government, that escalated this war and have kept it going for years. The governments responsible for the devastation and starvation of Yemen are among the wealthiest in the world, and they are helping to bring about the destruction of one of the world’s poorest countries. They have it within their power to lessen the suffering of millions of people right now, but that will happen only if they halt their campaign, lift the blockade, stabilize the economy, and support a massive relief effort to rescue Yemen’s impoverished, starving people. If that doesn’t happen soon, these governments will be responsible for causing massive loss of life on a horrifying scale.

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The Cost of Enabling Reckless Clients

When Obama was president, hawkish foreign policy pundits and analysts promoted the fiction that he “abandoned” allies and “rewarded” adversaries. This was one of Romney’s main campaign themes in 2012. Their answer to this imaginary problem was that the U.S. should seek to have “no daylight” with its “allies” (by which they almost always meant just Israel and Saudi Arabia). Romney once went so far as to say that there should not be “an inch of difference” between the U.S. and Israel, and applied this standard to all U.S. relationships with its “friends and allies”:

You don’t allow an inch of space to exist between you and your friends and allies.

Romney’s dumb position in 2012 had become the more or less default hawkish view in the next presidential campaign. The hawks held that public criticism of these governments was a mistake that harmed U.S. interests, and they argued that the U.S. should be supporting these states far more than Obama had done. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that they thought the appropriate U.S. response to any controversy involving a U.S. “ally” was to offer knee-jerk support.

The hawkish criticism of Obama was wrong in several ways. First, Obama wasn’t abandoning or neglecting these clients. He was already mistakenly backing them to the hilt and arming them to the teeth throughout his presidency. U.S. backing for the war on Yemen began under Obama and continued for almost two years while he was president. That was his greatest foreign policy mistake, and it will be a permanent blot on his legacy. Second, U.S. indulgence of reckless clients has not resulted in better outcomes for the region, but instead just encouraged the clients to do whatever they wanted regardless of the consequences. That has meant more bloodshed, instability, and needless suffering for millions of people. Third, these states were not and never have been treaty allies, so the U.S. is under no obligation to defend them, much less indulge their every preference. Finally, the interests of the U.S. and its clients’ interests have increasingly been diverging in the last decade, so when the U.S. goes out of its way to indulge its clients it is frequently doing so at the expense of its own interests.

Trump endorsed these erroneous hawkish criticisms of Obama’s record and sought to undo what Obama had supposedly done. If Obama had been too “tough” on Israel and Saudi Arabia, he would be the most indulgent panderer who gave them whatever they desired in exchange for nothing. This has contributed to destructive behavior by both states, including the ongoing shooting of unarmed protesters in Gaza and the routine targeting of civilians in Yemen among other things, and it has gained the U.S. absolutely nothing. Both governments know that the administration isn’t going to object to anything they do, and as long as they keep flattering Trump they are apparently going to be able to get away with whatever they want. Enabling reckless clients implicates our government in their wrongdoing, and it puts the U.S. in the absurd position of covering for behavior that has already damaged America’s reputation and harmed our interests.

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Arms Sales and Trump’s ‘Saudi First’ Foreign Policy

President Trump and his good friends the Saudis (White House photo)

Jonathan Caverley debunks Trump’s claims that the U.S. would lose a great deal by cutting off arms sales to the Saudis:

If American officials really want to encourage a change in Saudi policy, they should begin by looking at Saudi Arabia’s largest imports from the United States: weaponry. Cutting off the flow of American arms to Saudi Arabia would be an effective way to put pressure on Riyadh with little cost to the American economy or national security.

Trump keeps rejecting the idea that the U.S. should block arms sales to the Saudis, but as Caverley explains the president’s claims don’t hold up under scrutiny. Trump misrepresents the value the arms sales concluded during his presidency, he grossly exaggerates their importance for the U.S. economy, and by refusing to consider halting arms sales he is forfeiting significant leverage that the U.S. could use to rein in the crown prince’s destructive and abusive behavior. While Trump may claim that he willing to punish Saudi Arabia over their murder of Jamal Khashoggi, his determination not to touch arms sales to the kingdom proves that this is just empty rhetoric. The president isn’t going to impose significant penalties on the Saudis, and so Congress will have to do it instead.

William Hartung addressed Trump’s fascination with selling weapons to despots earlier this year here. As he explained then, arms sales create very few jobs, they are one of the most inefficient ways to spur economic activity, and job creation isn’t a good reason to be selling weapons abroad. Selling weapons that we know in advance are very likely to be used in the commission of war crimes and human rights abuses is a violation of U.S. law, and as long as the Saudis are waging war on Yemen we can be certain that this is how they will use U.S.-made weapons. We know that they are using U.S.-made weapons that they already have to slaughter civilians, and we have seen their blatant disregard for civilian lives on display for over three and a half years.

Caverley concludes by referring to the role of arms sales in Pompeo’s bogus Yemen certification:

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified that Saudi Arabia was minimizing civilian casualties in the Yemen air campaign apparently to avoid jeopardizing $2 billion in weapons sales. That small number does not show how powerful the Saudis are so much as how cheaply the United States can be bought [bold mine-DL]. Given these sales’ low domestic economic impact and the enormous costs of going elsewhere for Saudi Arabia, the United States has the preponderance of influence in this arms trade relationship. It should act accordingly.

It is damning that Pompeo lied to Congress about Yemen to protect arms sales, and it is even worse that he did so to protect sales worth such a relatively small sum. Our government should not be covering for its reckless clients, and it shouldn’t be so desperate to make more deals with war criminals.

One of the common arguments against blocking arms sales is that the penalized government can just turn around and buy from some other weapons exporting state. This seems plausible at first glance, but the reality is that U.S. clients cannot switch so easily to other arms suppliers. Caverley explains:

Transforming the Saudi military to employ Russian, much less Chinese, weapons would cost a fortune even by Gulf standards, would require years of retraining and would greatly reduce its military power for a generation. Russia cannot produce next-generation fighter aircraft, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles for its own armed forces, much less for the export market. China has not produced, never mind exported, the sophisticated aircraft and missile defense systems Saudi Arabia wants.

Trump happily picks fights for no reason with U.S. trading partners that do far more harm to the economies of all concerned than cutting off arms sales to the Saudis would do, and his Iran sanctions threaten to drive up oil prices to $100/barrel, but he claims that cutting off arms sales would be a “tough pill to swallow” when the cost would be negligible. He is prepared to inflict considerable economic damage on the economy and American workers if it lets him beat up on Canada and Germany and strangle Iran’s economy, but he doesn’t want to hold a despotic state accountable for an egregious crime because the economic consequences are supposedly too great? Even by Trump’s bizarre standards, his preferential treatment of the Saudis makes no sense.

Trump’s continued indulgence of the Saudis is the latest example of a recurring problem in how the U.S. handles the excesses and crimes of its clients. Even though the clients need the U.S. far more than we need them, they and their lobbyists have managed to convince a lot of people in Washington that the U.S. can never use its leverage with its clients for fear of wasting it or because there is a minuscule chance of driving them into the orbit of another major power. This problem did not begin with Trump, but he has made it worse. We saw this with the Obama administration’s pathetic response to the military coup in Egypt five years ago, and we have seen it many times in the U.S. response to Saudi outrages and crimes over the last few years. The U.S. becomes so frightened of alienating bad clients that it doesn’t need that it allows them to run amok and enables them in their worst behavior. That has the effect of letting the clients dictate U.S. actions no matter how detrimental they to U.S. interests these might prove to be.

An administration conducting a foreign policy that genuinely prioritized American interests would not keep sucking up to and covering for Saudi crimes. Unfortunately for the U.S., Yemen, and even Saudi Arabia, the administration’s “Saudi first” foreign policy encourages the crown prince’s worst instincts and leads him to believe that he will be able to get away with just about anything. It is up to Congress, American businesses, and the American public to make sure that Mohammed bin Salman doesn’t get away with anything else.

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Another Senseless Saudi Coalition Massacre in Yemen

Another Saudi coalition airstrike hit two buses full of displaced Yemenis near Hodeidah, killing 17 and wounding 20 more:

At least 17 passengers fleeing escalating war in Yemen’s war-torn port city of Hodeidah were killed on Saturday when a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit two buses near a security checkpoint, a provincial hospital official said.

The airstrike hit the buses in Masbarah area at the top of Jabal Ras hill near a Houthi-manned security checkpoint south of the port city.

“Most of the victims are women and children,” the official told Xinhua by phone on condition of anonymity.

He said 20 others were wounded and were transported to several hospitals.

The Saudi coalition has shown blatant disregard for the lives of civilians in Yemen ever since they intervened in 2015. The attack on these buses full of internally displaced people is just the most recent example of how the coalition routinely targets civilian structures and vehicles. Each new bombing of civilians proves that the coalition is not making any effort to reduce harm to civilians. On the contrary, the coalition has consistently sought to exacerbate the suffering of the civilian population through its indiscriminate bombing, its attacks on civilian infrastructure, its systematic targeting of Yemen’s food production, and the blockade that has been starving the country for years. The coalition’s latest victims were people who were trying to flee from the attack on Hodeidah. Just like the displaced people who were slaughtered in the Aug. 23 massacre, these Yemenis were seeking refuge from the coalition’s Hodeidah offensive only to be blown up by coalition bombs as they tried to escape the battlefield.

The latest massacre of innocent Yemenis comes just two days after the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child called for an end to coalition airstrikes in Yemen. The committee cited the Aug. 9 school bus massacre that killed 40 children as an example of the atrocities that the coalition has committed against Yemeni civilians:

A United Nations body has called on Saudi Arabia to immediately halt its deadly air raids against civilians in war-torn Yemen and prosecute officials responsible for child casualties due to unlawful attacks.

The statement by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on Thursday also said the investigative mechanism set up by the Saudi-UAE coalition to probe the bombing of a school bus in Yemen’s Sadaa in August was not credible.

The U.S. supports the offensive that caused these people to flee their homes, and our government arms and refuels the coalition bombing campaign. Our government is aiding a military campaign that puts the lives of hundreds of thousands of Hodeidah residents at risk and potentially threatens millions more if the port is damaged or shut down, and it makes possible the bombing campaign that massacres displaced Yemenis as they try to reach safety. This is why Congress should block all arms sales to the Saudis and Emiratis and cut off all military assistance to the coalition war.

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The Week’s Most Interesting Reads

Congress is forcing a confrontation with Saudi Arabia. Mohamad Bazzi comments on Congress’ response to the Saudi government’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi forensic expert is among the 15 named by Turkey in Khashoggi case. The Washington Post reports on the alleged role of Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy in the Khashoggi murder.

How would the U.S. cope if it lost the next war? Steven Metz continues his discussion of how the U.S. might lose future wars and what the possible effects of defeat might be.

What is a rogue state? Paul Pillar considers what the label means and which states deserve to be described this way.

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The Cruelty of ‘Maximum Pressure’

The Trump administration’s habit of inflicting punishment on the civilian population when it doesn’t get what it wants has come to North Korea:

U.S. officials are preventing American aid workers from making humanitarian trips to North Korea, according to people familiar with the matter, inhibiting the flow of food and medical assistance to the isolated country ahead of a new round of diplomacy over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The decision was made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two of these people said, part of an attempt to tighten the screws on North Korea in response to perceived foot-dragging on dismantling its nuclear program.

Preventing aid workers from helping sick and hungry North Koreans is not going to affect the regime’s negotiating position, but it will be another shameful example of seeking to exploit and exacerbate the suffering of civilians in the pursuit of unrealistic, maximalist demands. Depriving charitable and non-profit organizations from providing assistance to malnourished and ill people isn’t going to pressure the North Korean government into giving up any nuclear weapons, but it could cause unnecessary loss of life.

If Pompeo is willing to block aid to North Korea during negotiations, that doesn’t bode well for the supposed humanitarian exemptions to Iran sanctions. The article quotes one of the doctors whose application was rejected:

Kee Park, a Harvard Medical School scholar and director of the North Korea program at the Korean American Medical Association who has traveled to North Korea to perform humanitarian surgery work, said Thursday that his application was denied in August.

Mr. Park called the State Department’s decision “arbitrary” and “inconsistent with the intent of exempting critical humanitarian assistance within the broader maximum pressure policy against DPRK.”

Whether it is cutting aid that supplies food and medical care to Palestinians or it is trying to strangle the Iranian economy, the Trump administration consistently opts for cruelly punishing people that aren’t responsible for the actions of foreign leaders that they don’t like. Now it is barring humanitarian assistance to North Koreans in the bizarre expectation that this will change the regime’s attachment to its nuclear arsenal. It isn’t going to “work,” and it is an awful tactic to use even if it might.

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Report: Turkish Authorities Have Recordings of the Consulate Murder

Jamal Khashoggi offers remarks during POMED’s “Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia: A Deeper Look.”.Photo credit: April Brady/Project on Middle East Democracy/Flickr

Turkish authorities claim to have audio and video recordings that prove Saudi agents tortured and then murdered Jamal Khashoggi:

The recordings show that a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi in the consulate after he walked in on Oct. 2 to obtain an official document before his upcoming wedding, then killed him and dismembered his body, the officials said.

The audio recording in particular provides some of the most persuasive and gruesome evidence that the Saudi team is responsible for Khashoggi’s death, the officials said.

“The voice recording from inside the embassy lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered,” said one person with knowledge of the recording who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss highly sensitive intelligence.

“You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” this person said. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”

The existence of these recordings would explain how Turkish authorities knew what the Saudi agents had done to Khashoggi and how they had done it. Such recordings would provide definitive proof to support the charges made against the Saudi government. Our government should press Turkish officials to share this proof with the U.S. and their other allies. The fact that Turkey is willing to disclose that it has this evidence suggests that they are prepared to go to great lengths to keep the Saudi government from getting away with this. No one honestly doubts at this point that the Saudi government had the prominent critic murdered in their consulate, but evidence of the crime will lend support to efforts to hold the Saudis accountable.

Fortunately, the Saudi government is already paying a price in the court of public opinion. Some media companies and businesses that had been willing to participate in Saudi-hosted events and work on joint projects with the government have started abandoning the kingdom. Even one of the lobbying groups that had been working on public relations for Saudi Arabia has decided to quit. It is strange and unfortunate that Mohammed bin Salman can preside over an atrocious war in Yemen in which Saudi coalition forces are responsible for numerous war crimes and for creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis without provoking the same negative reaction, but I suspect that is a result of the overall neglect of Yemen’s plight in international media. While the blame for Khashoggi’s murder has been squarely and correctly laid at the crown prince’s feet, there has not been the same willingness to attribute Saudi coalition war crimes and the mass starvation of Yemenis to the war’s Saudi architect. Perhaps that will begin to change now that Western media outlets and politicians have a better appreciation for the kind of man the de factor ruler of Saudi Arabia is.

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