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U.S. Attempts Tricky Balancing Act after Journalist's Death

U.S. Attempts Tricky Balancing Act after Journalist's Death Read Transcript


- Well, Varsha Koduvayur

is with the Foundation forthe Defense of Democracy.

Varsha, thank you for being with us.

- My pleasure, thank you somuch for having me on today.

- Well, Mike Pompeo,the Secretary of State

said that he's recommendingTrump allow the Saudis

a few more days to wrapup their investigation

before taking action.

Do you agree with that approach?

- I think my sense ofthis, my reading of this,

is that the Saudis, as we know so far,

have yet to offer any evidenceto back up their claim

that Jamal Khashoggi left the consulate.

My understanding of givingthe Saudis a few more days

is so that the US and SaudiArabia could work together

and help the Saudis comeup with an explanation

that would be essentiallya face-saving mechanism

for them to admit culpability,

that it was maybe, perhaps,as we've read reports

that it was an interrogation gone wrong,

a botched interrogation,something of that sort

that would still put responsibilityfor this on the Saudis,

while not incriminating the Crown Prince,

Mohammad bin Salman.

- Is that a typical approach?

I know that this is probably atypical,

where you don't have a situation

like Jamal Khashoggi beinga prominent journalist,

but is that something that administrations

have done in the past?

- I can't speak to the US side of things,

but what I can tell you

is that in Saudi Arabiaover the past two years,

there are a lot of sensitivitiessurrounding leadership

because there's been anunprecedented generational change,

authorities are very careful

to manage the Kingdom'sreputation, to manage the image

of its new Crown Prince,Mohammad bin Salman,

that gets disseminated tointernational capitals and so on,

and with such an unprecedented

transfer of power in theworks in Saudi Arabia,

my understanding is that Saudi authorities

are hard-pressed to find a way

of saving face in this situation.

- Varsha, can you talk a little bit

about the delicatebalance the administration

is trying to strike here,

especially given its strategicpartnership with Saudi Arabia

with regional issuesthere in the Middle East.

- Certainly, yes.

The administration is goingto have to find a balance

in this situation as you put it,

but its going to be very tricky.

Essentially, what we must do,

is punish the Saudis but not in a way

that would completelyrupture the relationship,

because at the end of the day,

the trade relationshipis still very important,

bilateral arms sales arestill very important,

and the US-Saudi relationship is hinged

on two very important prongs,

which is using Saudi Arabia

as a regional counterweight against Iran,

and relying on Saudi Arabiato balance global oil markets

once oil sanctions againstIran kick in come November.

So the administration shouldideally act as soon as possible

and we've already seen alot of furor in Congress,

strong bipartisan action from Congress,

demanding that the Presidentenact Human Rights Sanctions

under the Global Magnitsky Act

against figures that are foundresponsible in this affair.

That would certainly send astrong message to the Saudis

that this transgression isnot going to be tolerated,

but it would punish them, as I said,

in a way that would still keep

the core of the relationshipalive and intact,

because there's no denying

that it's a very importantrelationship for both countries.

- Do you think we'll see

some hesitancy from the administration,

kinda like we saw with Congress

really advancing the callfor sanctions against Russia,

and having to put that in a bigger package

so the President would sign off on it?

- I think the difficulty in this situation

is there is still somuch that we don't know.

I mean, when you look atthe facts on the ground,

none of them are really facts

in the sense that they are all allegations

and leaks from Turkish media,

and Turkish government-controlledmedia, too, let me add,

so we're not exactly hearing information

from a source that we can completely trust

or rely upon for its veracity,

so I think this puts both theadministration and Congress

in a tight situation of, again,

needing to send a strong message,

particularly about the US'commitment to human rights,

the US' commitment tofreedom of expression,

to freedom of the press, all of that,

while at the same time,making do with the information

that has come out from Turkish authorities

in this steady drip-feedof leaks and allegations.

- Great point on thatTurkish state-run media.

Along the topic of freedom of expression,

the Washington Post published

Jamal Khashoggi's final op-ed overnight.

His editor wrote that thecolumn, which really focused

on the freedom of expressionin the Arab world,

perfectly captured hiscommitment and passion.

Some have described it

as his own obituary that he's written.

What's your take?

- It was a very heartbreaking opinion

for me to read, personally,

but he ended with a messagethat could not resonate more,

and I have it out here,and what he said was,

the Arab world needs a modern version

of trans-national media thatit can essentially rely upon,

that its citizens can useto understand global events.

And that is such afitting, resonating message

given that the entire mediaenvironment, if you will,

that we've seen in the past two weeks

since Khashoggi's disappearance,

it's all been shaped bydisinformation campaigns

carried out by Saudi Arabia and Turkey,

it's been shaped by leaks,

it's been shaped by allegations.

His final op-ed, it's a tragicnote to end his life with,

but he captures so perfectly the dilemma

that we all find ourselves in right now.

- Well, definitely.

Even in death, he's shiningthe light on the issue.

Varsha Koduvayur, thankyou so much for joining us.

- My pleasure, thank you.

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