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Tensions Mount Between U.S. And Saudi Arabia Over Killing Of Journalist


The Washington Post broke the story late Friday that the CIA has determined with high confidence that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Until now, the president has rebuffed claims the crown prince was behind the killing. Robert Jordan was U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during President George W. Bush's administration and joins us now. Ambassador, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: What do you believe the effect of this report will be?

JORDAN: Well, I think it lessens the options that President Trump has to try to curry favor with the crown prince. I think it makes it much more difficult. It probably also encourages Congress to insist on more robust sanctions than we've seen up to this point.

SIMON: I guess I ought to ask, too, do you have any doubt about this assessment? Or do you think it is in any way politically inspired against the president by certain CIA officers?

JORDAN: Well, I think it's very unlikely that it's politically inspired, although I do think, perhaps, the leak of it is inspired by some who would like to get a marker out there before, for example, any action is taken on Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish dissident residing in Pennsylvania whose rendition or extradition has been speculated about.

SIMON: The sanction the Trump administration levied against 17 Saudis reportedly involved in the killing - do you consider that a serious response?

JORDAN: No. I've said before that canceling their visas really only means they can't come to Disneyland. I think it's a token kind of sanction. And obviously, there needs to be something more robust.

I think we also have actions, perhaps short of formal sanctions, in the form of slowing down these arms sales, applying more pressure to wind up the war in Yemen, to wind up the blockade of Qatar and to have a very forceful diplomatic exchange here on the kind of conduct we expect going forward.

SIMON: Mr. Ambassador, I feel the need to step back a moment. Do you recall after 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were found to be Saudi citizens, there were charges that the Bush administration had been too soft and compliant in the kingdom, of which had tolerated extremism. More than a decade out from that, do you think several administrations, including, perhaps, the one you served, were just too soft on the Saudis?

JORDAN: Well, I think that may be the public image. But I can assure you, since I arrived as ambassador one month after 9/11, we were right in their face about extremism from Day 1. This is a private conversation that has to be had.

And frankly, the fact that we have not had an ambassador there for two years makes it more difficult to enforce our values and enforce our relationships. So thankfully, we've now identified - or the president has now identified General Abizaid, who I have great confidence in. And I think he will make some difference in the diplomatic exchange that needs to occur.

But I think beginning with the aftermath of 9/11, we made it clear to the Saudis that what they preach in their mosques and what they teach in their schools is no longer an internal matter because it affects our national security as well.

SIMON: And when you said a private matter - we've just got about 15 seconds - you mean a matter of American policy we have to talk about with each other.

JORDAN: Exactly. It's not simply an internal matter for them. It's a matter of our national security. And the intolerance, the extremism that they propagate is something that we have a national interest in.

SIMON: Robert Jordan, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, thanks so much.

JORDAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.