Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has denounced US President Donald Trump’s “shameful” stance that his administration will stand by Saudi Arabia despite the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
In tweets sent out on November 20, Zarif added that “Mr. Trump bizarrely devotes the FIRST paragraph of his shameful statement on Saudi atrocities to accuse IRAN of every sort of malfeasance he can think of”.
Although CIA and US State Department officials have briefed American media that they believe the brutal killing of journalist Khashoggi seven weeks ago in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate was ordered by Saudi de facto leader and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Trump vowed the US would stay a “steadfast partner” of major Middle East ally Riyadh, while acknowledging that bin Salman may have known about the plan to murder Khashoggi.
Trump issued a statement that began: “The world is a very dangerous place!”
He added: “The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilise Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more.”
Responding, Zarif also referred to Trump’s unfavourable comparison of California’s forestry management to that of Finland, adding: “Perhaps we’re also responsible for the California fires, because we didn’t help rake the forests—just like the Finns do?”
When visiting the scene of California’s devastating Camp Fire on November 17, Trump said the Finnish president had told him Finland had managed to avoid such fires by spending “a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things” to clear forest floors. The Finnish president subsequently said he could not recall having said such a thing.
Trump is wary of losing bin Salman as a big backer of US policy on Israel and Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional arch-rival. The US is using harsh, unprecedented sanctions in an attempt at throttling the Iranian economy to push Tehran to the negotiating table to secure concessions on its role in Middle East affairs.
Criticism from senators
Whether the White House approach to bin Salman and Riyadh will be accepted by the Senate is now a big question. Top Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has previously described the crown prince as “unhinged”, criticised Trump’s statement, saying: “It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi.
“I firmly believe there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilized norms. While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of the Crown Prince—in multiple ways—has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic.
“I fully realise we have to deal with bad actors and imperfect situations on the international stage. However, when we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset.”
Trump received another harsh rebuke from a Senate Republican for his comments on Saudi Arabia. Bob Corker, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Twitter: “I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”
A US State Department official on November 20 told ABC News that it was “blindingly obvious” that bin Salman ordered the killing of Khashoggi.
The Saudis claim a “rogue” team of agents performed the assassination. They insist bin Salman had no advance knowledge of it. But audio recordings provided to the US and other Nato allies by Turkish intelligence indicates otherwise.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the killing was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government but has not directly accused the crown prince—although all the indications are that he would like to see him toppled. Saudi Arabia has denied that the prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing.
November 21 also saw Erdogan’s parliamentary ally, MHP nationalist party leader Devlet Bahceli, attack bin Laden, saying in a speech that Saudi leaders had resorted to terrorist methods.
“I ask you, what difference remains between Saudi Arabia’s administration and the mentality of Osama bin Laden? What separates this country from al Qaeda?” Reuters reported Bahceli as saying. “The circle is closing in for the crown prince, the paths of escape and salvation are closing.”