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Mattis Says Khashoggi Killing Could Destabilize Middle East

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MANAMA, Bahrain—Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Saturday said any role Saudi Arabia played in a journalist’s killing could destabilize the Persian Gulf region and beyond, leveling rare criticism at a military ally.

“With our collective interests in peace and unwavering respect for human rights in mind, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in a diplomatic facility must concern us all,” Mr. Mattis told a group of Gulf security officials that included senior members of a Saudi delegation. “Failure of any nation to adhere to international norms and the rule of law undermines regional stability at a time when it is needed most.”

His remarks were his first substantive comments on the matter since the writer was killed Oct. 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. In a series of shifting statements about the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, Riyadh has acknowledged in recent days that the killing was “premeditated,” citing evidence shared by Turkish authorities, but has denied Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved.

Mr. Mattis, who often Travels the world to strengthen alliances, is typically reserved in criticism of other nations, deferring to the White House or State Department to make such pronouncements. His more pointed comments reinforce the degree to which the U.S. is confronted with a complex challenge in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, who was critical of Prince Mohammed.

Representatives of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the U.S. have been at odds about what happened to missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, until Saudi Arabia confirmed that he was killed in its consulate in Istanbul. Here’s how each country’s narrative unfolded. Photo: George Downs/The Wall Street Journal

The uproar amounts to one of the biggest foreign policy tests of Mr. Trump’s presidency. Billions of dollars of arms deal agreements between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are potentially at stake as well as American support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Congressmembers and other critics have questioned whether the U.S. should redefine its relationship with Riyadh, a primary ally in the region and the anchor to the West’s strategy to counter Iranian influence.  

Mr. Mattis said America’s shared security interests with Israel and its Arab allies remain and “our respect for the Saudi people is undiminished,” without mentioning Prince Mohammed.

At the same Bahrain conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the response to the death of Mr. Khashoggi has been out of proportion, particularly from the media.

“This issue has become fairly hysterical. People has assigned blamed on Saudi Arabia with such certainty before the investigation is complete,” said Mr. Jubeir.

He declined to comment on how now-dismissed aides to Prince Mohammed were involved in the operation targeting Mr. Khashoggi, or on suspicions by Turkish and Western officials that the prince—the country’s day-to-day leader—was aware of it. He said the Khashoggi investigation is ongoing.

Mr. Jubeir rejected calls from Turkey to extradite the suspects, saying the 18 people detained would be prosecuted in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Mattis said that “due to the gravity of the situation” he would continue to confer with the White House and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “as they consider the implications of this incident within our broader strategic framework.”

“We must maintain our strong people-to-people partnership, knowing that with our respect must come transparency and trust…These two principles are vital for ensuring the continued collaboration we know is necessary for a safe, secure and prosperous Middle East,” Mr. Mattis said.

He also took aim at Tehran, enumerating the ways in which Iran is proliferating weapons and providing other support to groups in numerous countries, including Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Mr. Mattis said the U.S. stands against Iran’s role in testing and proliferation of missile systems, its attacks on a key international shipping route to the Red Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb strait, and any effort to develop a nuclear weapon. But support for the Assad regime in Syria is the most emblematic of Iran’s malign activities, he said, adding that Russia’s presence in the region can’t replace the U.S. commitment to the Middle East.

Mr. Mattis returned to his refrain in all remarks he makes around the globe: that working together is more effective than working apart.

“We stand with our partners who favor stability over chaos, and we support unity of effort among our nations’ militaries in response to shared threats and challenges, for in such unity is the real power to set and to maintain peace.”

Write to Gordon Lubold at [email protected] and Margherita Stancati at [email protected]

Source : WSJ

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