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The US House passes measures sanctioning Saudi - what will be the impact?

  • 16 Jul 2019

Lawmakers move to sanction officials involved in killing of Jamal Khashoggi, but Senate and Trump can veto measures.

A member of security staff casts a shadow at the entrance of Saudi Arabia's consulate where the missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was last seen, in Istanbul, Turkey October 12, 2018. ( Reuters )

The House of Representatives passed two measures on Monday that were highly critical of Saudi Arabia, with one seeking to have the US impose sanctions on the Saudi officials responsible for the grisly murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

In addition to passing a resolution via voice vote that condemns Saudi Arabia's detention and alleged abuse of women's rights advocates, the House overwhelmingly approved the Saudi Arabia Human Rights and Accountability Act by a vote of 405-7.

Introduced by Congressman Tom Malinowski, the act requires the Director of National Intelligence to publicly identify the people involved in killing Khashoggi and impose visa and travel sanctions on them. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is further required to report on the extent to which Riyadh's security forces and military are involved in human rights violations.

While the measures easily cleared the House, their fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is far from certain. Senate Republicans are far less hawkish in their commitment to issuing stiff penalties to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi's killing, particularly given President Donald Trump's defence of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is chiefly suspected of ordering the murder.

Trump is expected to veto the measures if the Senate also passes the motions.

Khashoggi was killed on October 2, 2018, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia initially denied any knowledge of his whereabouts after he went missing but later attempted to blame his death on a team of rogue operatives carrying out a botched rendition operation.

That explanation, however, has flown in the face of international and US assessments of the killing, which place the blame for the murder on Crown Prince bin Salman.

Trump has brushed aside the conclusions of his own intelligence chiefs in order to maintain strong ties with Saudi Arabia.

Legal status of the resolution

The Democrats won control of the US House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections with 234 seats to 198 Republicans seats. Support for sanctioning Saudi Arabia, however, extends across both aisles.

According to US law, if the president vetoes the resolution, it will be sent back to both chambers.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives would have to vote with a two-thirds majority to override the president's veto and make the motion law.

It is unlikely that opponents of Saudi Arabia in Congress can garner enough votes to override Trump’s veto.

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