12.14.18

[VIDEO] Sen. Coons on US-Saudi relationship: “I think we should have a complete re-examination”

Sen. Coons: “We're not just a country of interests. We're not just another great power. We're a country that is great because of our values.”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this morning joined MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

“When our president hears the relevant intelligence, is briefed on the security consequences and on all those chilling details and says, I don't know, I'm not sure who to believe, I'm not sure what we ought to do, they are a great partner, they buy a lot of weapons from us. That suggests our relationship with the Saudi kingdom is rooted only in arm sales and access to energy. That degrades the United States. That makes us not only not great again but that goes at the very core of what has made us great which is being clear about our values, priorities. So refusing to stand up for the freedom of the press and defend an American resident journalist weakens our country and having a partnership even following this incident with no accountability for it profoundly weakens our country,” said Senator Coons.

Video and audio available here.

Excerpts from the interview are below:

Sen. Coons on the border: Mika, absolutely. This calls on all of us to bring a moral lens to this story, to look at how we're treating families, families with children, families who are coming to this country out of desperation. My predecessor, Joe Biden, when he was Vice President led an effort to invest in trying to stabilize and improve the quality of life, the rule of law in countries like Guatemala and Honduras and El Salvador so tens of thousands of parents wouldn't feel compelled by violence and disorder in those countries to risk the thousands of miles of travel often across desert to try and make it to our southern border. That's a policy that was supported in a bipartisan way here in Congress but this administration has cut the funding for those programs significantly over the last two years. I think we should do everything we can to help make sure families don't feel compelled to make that risky trip, but once they do, border patrol needs to do everything they can to avoid this kind of senseless and needless loss of life, particularly for children who present at our border in really terrible condition. 

Sen. Coons on Yemen: I think the chances are fairly strong, Joe, because number of senators both Republican and Democrat who have had grave concerns about the conduct of the war in Yemen for a long time but hadn't spoken out about it, hadn't voted against it and who now have as a result of the brutal abduction, torture and murder of Jamal Khashoggi an American resident journalist that's what changed the view of so many in the Senate with whom I voted and spoken about this issue, was both that particular incident and the ways in which President Trump failed to step up and teach about America's values. You know, we're not just a country of interests. We're not just another great power. We're a country that is great because of our values. The utter failure to stand up for and protect a journalist, an American resident journalist with American citizen children, has galvanized bipartisan action in the Senate and the point you make, Joe, is an important one. Although this was a significant vote yesterday in the Senate, there's no chance that the Republican controlled House will take it up and pass it before the end of this session. Early next year I think we should consider this issue again and take stronger action with teeth in way that our House colleagues in the Democratic Party can then put on the president's desk to force him to act on this issue. 

More on Saudi Arabia: This is the sort of thing, Willie, I think the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate should look at in detail. For a long time, we had a close, strategic partnership with the Saudi kingdom. They are a key bulwark against Iran and against Iran’s expansionism, their support of terrorism in the region. But some of the recent adventures that MBS has dragged us along on, not just this tragic war in Yemen, but also their actions against Qatar, his actions in Lebanon and for a long time the ways in which the Saudi kingdom has supported and exported a fairly extreme version of Islam has to make us reconsider the depth of this relationship. How many more incidents like this, tragedy in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul will we get dragged into if we don't begin to draw some different lines in terms of our priorities for the U.S.-Saudi relationship? So I think we should have a complete re-examination. What we haven't heard yet from Secretary Pompeo is a real openness to a reconsideration of our relationship with the Saudis. 

More on the Middle East: I do share that concern, David. A number of my colleagues have come out and fairly boldly said: What should happen to the Crown Prince? Who should be the next leader of Saudi Arabia? And I think we're on stronger, better footing if we put forward our values and our priorities and make it clear what the limits are to our partnership with the Saudis. That's what the vote yesterday was really about, was saying that the conduct of the war in Yemen, the humanitarian consequences of the war in Yemen are a step too far for us. We've already seen some positive movement in the peace talks between the Houthis and the legitimate Yemen government, particularly in regard to the port in Hudaydah and the delivery of humanitarian relief. That's an encouraging first sign. I don't think we should be specifically saying whether the Crown Prince can or can't lead Saudi Arabia, but instead putting our values, priorities forward and then making it clear we won't be supporting further adventurism and further actions in particular actions to try to do the sort of extreme thing like kidnapping and murdering a critic of the Saudi royal family. 

More on Saudi Arabia: Joe, that's exactly why this has been such a galvanizing incident. You concisely summarized the most chilling parts of this particular incident and I think we need to send a clear message that that style of leadership is not going to lead to an enduring American partnership with the Saudi kingdom and to be clear about our priorities. When our president hears the relevant intelligence, is briefed on the security consequences and on all those chilling details and says, I don't know, I'm not sure who to believe, I'm not sure what we ought to do, they are a great partner, they buy a lot of weapons from us. That suggests our relationship with the Saudi kingdom is rooted only in arm sales and access to energy. That degrades the United States. That makes us not only not great again but that goes at the very core of what has made us great which is being clear about our values, priorities. So refusing to stand up for the freedom of the press and defend an American resident journalist weakens our country and having a partnership even following this incident with no accountability for it profoundly weakens our country. 

###

 

Press Contact

Sean Coit at 202-224-5042 or Sean_Coit@coons.senate.gov