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US senators push Biden to prepare report on Saudi human rights record

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th left) attends an Arab summit with US President Joe Biden (not seen), in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 16, 2022. (File photo by Reuters)

US senators have introduced a resolution that could force President Joe Biden’s administration to critically appraise Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and possibly reassess Washington's security assistance for the kingdom.

The resolution, introduced by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy and Republican Mike Lee on Wednesday, will allow Congress to vote to request information on Saudi Arabia’s human rights practices.

Murphy, who chairs the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Mideast subcommittee, has long been a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia's war on Yemen and Riyadh’s horrible human rights record.

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The Biden administration, if the resolution is passed, will be obliged by law to submit its report within 30 days of Congress' request, or else all security aid to Saudi Arabia will be automatically halted.

However, after Congress receives the requested report, the Foreign Assistance Act will stipulate whether Congress adopts a joint resolution, terminates, restricts, or continues security assistance to the country.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s top oil exporter and OPEC+ heavyweight. In this regard, the United States considers Saudi Arabia an important Middle Eastern ally, which has for decades been providing cheap oil to the US in exchange for Washington's protection.

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump warned Saudi Arabia’s King Salman that the Arab monarchy would not last in power “for two weeks” without the backing of the US military.

“We protect Saudi Arabia. Would you say they’re rich. And I love the King, King Salman. But I said ‘King — we’re protecting you — you might not be there for two weeks without us — you have to pay for your military,’” Trump said to cheers at a rally in Southaven, Mississippi, USA.

In addition, Riyadh has a dark record of human rights abuses such as executions of political prisoners, particularly the macabre killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi under direct orders issued by the kingdom’s de-facto ruler and crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

There were repeated calls last year to freeze cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including most arms sales, amid accusations that Riyadh helped underwrite Russia's military operation in Ukraine after OPEC+ announced it would cut oil production despite Biden's effort to increase output.

Saudi Arabia is a major buyer of US weapons and aerospace equipment. Two of its airlines just agreed to buy 78 Boeing aircraft and took options to buy another 43. The list price for 78 planes would total nearly $37 billion.

“When we cozy up to these brutal dictators, who engage in some of the most brazen, brutal repression of democracy and free speech, it gravely harms our efforts to save global democracy,” Murphy admitted to reporters in an interview.

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