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Robert Jordan, Tower Center, commentary, Khashoggi murder requires real response to Saudi Arabia policy

The Hill

Originally Posted: October 27, 2018

Robert W. Jordan served as the United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2001 to 2003. He is now a diplomat in residence at the John Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University

In the wake of the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia are at the lowest point since the 9/11 attacks. I arrived in Riyadh as the new United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia a month in the aftermath of that tragedy 17 years ago.

My first question to Prince Salman, at the time governor and now king, was “How could it be that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis?” His answer astonished me as he said, “There were no Saudis involved in the attacks. It was an Israeli plot, orchestrated by the Mossad.” Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi interior minister, gave me the same answer. It was not until I met with the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Faisal, that I got a straight answer and a commitment to cooperate in our investigation.

Working together in going after Al Qaeda, however, was difficult to implement. It took almost two years to achieve significant alignment in fighting terrorism and its financing in the kingdom. Meanwhile, Saudis bristled angrily at the negative media coverage and the highly critical commentary from American politicians and religious figures. Relations reached a low point from which we gradually emerged. One of the journalists who helped me understand the dynamics of Saudi society and the influence of religious extremism was Jamal Khashoggi.

In the weeks since his murder it has been equally difficult to get a straight answer from the Saudis. Responses have morphed from outright denial that he died in the consulate to a “rogue operation” that accidentally went wrong, to admission of premeditated murder, all with a firewall carefully constructed around Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Nearly all American commentators, including General Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have pointed a finger at Mohammed Bin Salman, concluding that his style of micromanagement and brutal disdain for dissent make it inconceivable that he was not directly involved in the murder plot. Even President Trump has opined that the crown prince is the one in charge of “running things” in the government. READ MORE