House passes bill limiting arms sales to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi killing

The House on Wednesday passed legislation restricting arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the gruesome killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. 

The legislation, called the “Protection of Saudi Dissidents Act of 2021”, passed the House with a bipartisan majority, 350 to 71 vote. It is unclear if the Senate will take up the measure.

The bill passed the House with a two-thirds majority, required under a fast-track process for bills that receive widespread support.

It was authored by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who represents the district where Khashoggi lived while in the U.S.

The bill halts the sale and export of certain defensive materials to Saudi Arabia unless the president can certify that the Kingdom is not engaged in repression and torture of dissidents and arbitrary detention of U.S. or international citizens.

The legislation serves to impose more costs on Saudi Arabia following the conclusion by the intelligence community that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who wrote critically of the Saudi government.

Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 under the pretext of obtaining documents for a marriage license when he was ambushed by at least a 15-member hit squad under the direction of the crown prince. He was reportedly killed by suffocation, dismembered with a bone-saw and his body burned in a large oven.

A declassified intelligence report, released in February, said that an “operation of this nature” would not have taken place without the authorization of Prince Mohammed, and that the prince supports the use of violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including against Khashoggi. 

President Biden, in response to the release of the intelligence report, announced a range of punitive measures against 76 Saudi individuals and Prince Mohammed’s personal security detail, but held back from taking action against the crown prince himself.

At the time, administration officials told the New York Times that the crown prince was spared over concerns that visa restrictions or criminal charges would hurt critical cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. on counter-terrorism and confronting Iran. 

Biden came into office promising a “recalibration” of Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, and ended U.S. support for the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen’s civil war over concerns of civilian casualties and worsening the humanitarian crisis in the country.

But administration officials have reiterated a commitment to Saudi’s legitimate defensive needs in the face of attacks from Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, complicating the distinction between offensive and defensive weapons support. 

Tags Gerry Connolly Joe Biden

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