Tag Archives: Pompeo

“The World Is a Dangerous Place!”: Trump and US Financial Interests in Saudi Arabia

20 Nov

This morning Trump issued a very lawyerly statement on Muhammad bin Salman’s guilt with regard to Khashoggi’s assassination: “The world is a dangerous place!” (as if Khashoggi just bumped into his murder) …  “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t”. And “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia, to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”

 

The full statement is attached here: https://twitter.com/Acosta/status/1064939271113637890

 

Why would Trump defend the murderous intent of a government who sends a hit-team to Istanbul to suffocate and dismember a U.S. resident and writer for the Washington Post?  First let’s begin to look at the money trail (and later at the grand plan that Kushner has supposedly cooked up for Saudi Arabia in the region).

 

#Trump claims to have NO business interests in #SaudiArabia. That is only half true. In June of 2001 #Trump sold the 45th floor of Trump World Tower to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and reportedly made $4.5 billion (actually more, see below). These apartments became part of the Saudi Arabian Mission to the United Nations.

Because the Saudis also paid additional costs (like annual fees of 85K per year) he could have made as much as $12 billion in that sale, but certainly $5.7 billion.

 

Earlier, in 1991, Prince AlWaleed bin-Talal bought Trump’s yacht, “Princess” for $20 million to help him out during a very tough period. In 1995, Prince AlWaleed along with other investors bought #Trump‘s Plaza Hotel for $325 million. (Prince AlWaleed expressed strong dislike for Trump, who has returned his animosity despite the fact that he had helped Trump with these purchases. Some have speculated this is why Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman so mistreated Prince AlWaleed when he captured him along with hundreds of others and held them at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. The Prince appears to have been tortured, or certainly is not the same man, and recently spoke in defense of Muhammad bin Salman as if ordered to do so).

While Trump’s dealings with Saudi Arabia were legal before his Presidency, certain actions during his campaign (involving Russia but also UAE and Saudi Arabia are arguably not) and he is supposed to avoid directly profiting from a foreign entity as a President. Even so, after #Trump became President, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia spent $270,000 at Trump’s Washington hotel while they were lobbying (the US) – $190,000 on rooms, $78,000 for catering, $1,600 for parking accrdng to a Washington Post Report based on required lobbyist filings. Just slightly different figures were given by the Independent: “aid disclosures filed with US Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, show that Qorvis MSLGroup paid $190,272 to Trump International for lodging expenses, $78,204 for catering, and $1,568 for parking.”

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/donald-trump-international-hotel-saudi-arabia-washington-dc-investment-270000-a7775471.html

Also see:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-hotel-received-270-000-from-lobbying-campaign-tied-to-saudis-1496700739

https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/336444-saudis-spent270000-at-trump-hotel-as-part-of-lobbying-efforts-report

 

In July 2018 a lawsuit was filed against #Trump for accepting payments from foreign governments in that stay, which is a violation of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution. The President filed a Motion to Dismiss, which the court rejected. Here’s the judge’s opinion:

http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/sites/mdd/files/17-1596-Opinion.pdf

 

Though he may not actively manage the properties, he profits or “gains” from their profits. That lawsuit is continuing.

 

Also, in March of 2018, the #Trump International Hotel in New York hosted #Saudis accompanying Muhammad bin Salman. The Saudis paid so much that the general manager of the property wrote that their five day stay produced a 13% bump in revenue for that fiscal quarter 2h2 hours ago

In addition to this information which came from a fact-check on #Trump‘s denial of interests in #SaudiArabia (https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2018/oct/18/donald-trump/donald-trumps-claim-no-financial-interests-saudi-a/ ) we should look carefully at Crown Prince #MuhammadbinSalman‘s activities while in the United States in March He visited tech industries in California and the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) pledged $45 billion to (Japanese) SoftBank’s $100 bill technology venture capital fund. Also, PIF bought a $3.5 billion share in Uber and a $2 billion stake in Tesla; and invested about $1 billion in Virgin Group’s space companies. Why all this spending?

Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman had magnificent plans under #Saudi‘s Vision 2030 for a tech city, Neom, which will use AI (artificial intelligence) and robots. Just imagine all the profits that Silicon Valley companies and others could make here!

But meanwhile, why wasn’t the U.S. speaking out even prior to the brutal murder of #Khashoggi, when Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman had brutally locked up and tortured senior #Saudis in the Ritz-Carlton, not releasing them until they paid huge sums of money to him?  At least one died and some are still locked up!

There have been arrests of activists, including women activists and reports they have been tortured, beaten, mistreated, and threatened from telling their family members of their treatment.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/saudi-womens-rights-advocates-reportedly-abused-while-in-prison/2018/11/20/9e77f11c-ebfb-11e8-9236-bb94154151d2_story.html?utm_term=.69dd9072b377

These include: include Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sada, Mohammad al-Rabe’a and Dr Ibrahim al-Modeimigh.

Why was there no outcry from #US senators or congressmen? If not from #Trump and Kushner?  It wasn’t simply the prospect of business deals in the U.S. but because #SaudiArabia has spent a LOT lobbying individual politicians.

#Saudis spent $27 million on Washington lobbying firms in 2017, that is three times the amount they paid out in 2016. $400,000 went directly to campaign funds of senators and House members who were urged not to make noise about MbS’ actions at the Ritz-Carlton, or arrests of activists, and indeed they did not speak out about this. (Information from Centre on International Policy)

 

What about this important arms deal? President Trump claims that it totals $110 billion in sales. That figure is again, not entirely correct. Most of the agreements are MOIs (memoranda of intent). Actually the total is more like $28 billion made up of six items which were previously declared by President Obama to Congress. Others are more like more like a wish list, and are still being negotiated.

 

For example, the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-ballistic missile system received preliminary approval from the US Congress. However #Saudi Arabia was supposed to meet a September deadline with Lockheed Martin, and they missed that deadline. Many items are scheduled for far enough in the future, that the ‘deals’ could be withdrawn. The THAAD is tentatively scheduled for 2023-2026.

It doesn’t HAVE to be sold and no Americans are going to be put out of work they haven’t started on. There’s much more on this and fact-checking on the figure that Trump refers to here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/10/11/trumps-billion-arms-sales-saudi-arabia-still-fake/?utm_term=.a39d542a3a66

Now, I’m hoping to find out more about Kushner’s financial interests in Saudi Arabia …

 

Naseeha to President Trump and Others on #KhashoggiGate

15 Oct

By Sherifa Zuhur.

Reactions to Jamal al-Khashoggi’s assassination, have ranged from despair from activist Manal al-Sharif, journalists’ sorrow and outrage, official demands for information from the UK, France and Germany to statements of support for Saudi Arabia by various Arab countries.

Jamal Khashoggi’s keen eye and voice on regional policy has also been lost. An official response is needed to underline non-tolerance for assassination and deter future similar actions.

It may be challenging for the Trump administration to craft a response to the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, since that country is so important to the U.S.’s current regional policy and business interests. Nevertheless, journalists, policy advisors, and those who support the U.S.’s moral role to support human rights internationally must urge it to act beyond bluster and prevarication.

On Monday, President Trump on echoed the Saudi King Salman’s denial of the Kingdom’s involvement in the murder of veteran journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump said after speaking with Salman, “He firmly denied that.” And “it sounded to me like these [murderers] could have been rogue killers. Who knows?” This notion had earlier come up in a call between the Saudi King and Turkey’s President Erdogan. Surely Trump’s advisors are capable of explaining the identities and government links of certain of the fifteen member Saudi team which traveled to Istanbul, was admitted to the embassy and residence, conveyed by chartered aircraft and in diplomatic vehicle, and that no such operation proceeded without the highest levels of approvals.

Trump cited the joint investigation being carried out by Turkey and the U.S. and dispatched Secretary of State Pompeo to the region. It’s unclear how thorough this investigation will be, and if it will include alleged audio (and now visual) evidence earlier claimed in Turkish leaks. A cleaning crew was spotted Monday prior to the entrance of investigators without any tools or protective gear. The integrity of the murder scene may have been compromised in the days between Oct. 2 and 14.

The first order of business is for the President and Pompeo to respond to the international audience without repetitions of Saudi disavowals and denials of responsibility.  Communications at the highest level, particularly in the absence of a U.S. ambassador, are symbolic, but not meaningless. It is possible to assure an ally that one is listening, but does not agree.

 

Whether the Saudis continue to state that the assassination team sent to Istanbul was a rogue operation, and the Turkish authorities release their compelling evidence or not, this should mark a turning point in U.S.-Saudi relations.

Trump’s options include:

*Breaking off of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

This seems unlikely given Trump’s initial comment that Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen, although he is a U.S. resident, which indicates some confusion about the status of human rights, are they for U.S. citizens only? Side note: there is no U.S. ambassador in Saudi Arabia for the Saudis to summon, or request to leave, but some action would be taken.

*Cancel or put off promised arms sales to the Kingdom. The President has already stated his disinclination to do so to avoid the loss of U.S. jobs in the defense sector. Congress could step in; Senator Rubio has in fact promised that it would if the President does not act, but this was contingent on a determination that Khashoggi was murdered.

If Congress took such an action, in adopting sanctions which impacted arms sales, this might either postpone them, or set moratorium on future sales could be announced to be cancelled if progress towards civil freedoms in Saudi Arabia is assessed.   How would this occur? Think of something similar to the annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms, perhaps a joint body made up of governmental and other monitoring organizations in a series of periodic executive reports.

*Congress, not the president must order an investigation into the lack of warning given to Khashoggi on intelligence received concerning plots against him, and the precise nature of that intelligence. It must also seek to understand if names of dissidents were passed to Muhammad bin Salman or those who work for him by individuals in the U.S. even to include Jared Kushner. Normally information obtained in this manner is not shared with the public unless someone is prosecuted for a crime related to national security. In this case, an exception should be made.

*acting to slow visa issuances. The Department of State could slow down visa issuance and cut back on the numbers of Saudi students admitted into the U.S. Trump’s likely response to such a suggestion would probably be negative. Similar actions were taken following 9/11 and then reversed. I’ve never considered these to be a good idea because students need education and exposure to the world, but a temporary action may send the desired message to the Saudi government.

*Some advised stepping back from the U.S. reliance on Saudi Arabia, which has been reinforced under the anticipation of a Kushner et al. ME peace plan.  Or, for pushing for a resolution to the Qatar – Saudi Arabia and UAE feud or ending U.S. cooperation with the war on Yemen.   Iran’s performance on human rights is as disastrous as Saudi Arabia;its regional ambitions are extremely strong and cooperation in any bargain is dubious. Thus while some action must be taken vis Saudi Arabia, the alternative is not to be found in Tehran at this time. Ending cooperation with the war on Yemen is strongly problematic with Ansarallah still active in Sana’a, but I agree that U.S. participation in the air bombing campaign could and should cease. The squabble with Qatar has been a distraction and a foolish effort to “end Islamism” by targeting one variety of that trend, whilst leaving others in place. However, none of these actions would ensure the integrity of exiles, journalists or civil society’s actors in the future without an explicit commitment to do so.

*Some called for King Salman to name a different Crown Prince. There is talk for instance about different candidates, or that the King might name a Deputy Crown Prince. More discussion of MbS writing a letter of resignation or  temporarily stepping down during an investigation has been active since Erdogan announced that he will disclose a lot in his AKP parliamentary meeting on Tuesday Oct. 23rd.  But this may be wishful thinking by parties already angered by this and many other incidents. This is not up to Trump, and note his previous silence during the months when Muhammad bin Salman tightened his grip on power, imprisoning other family members and Saudis in the Ritz-Carlton hotel under the guise of an “anti-corruption campaign.” But if the U.S. has little influence on political succession, it certainly can demand an end to thuggery.

The US can also call for the release those imprisoned or detained on political charges now, from Loujain to Raif al-Badawi to Hatoon al-Fassi. And a lifting a travel bans placed on many Saudis including the family members of Jamal Khashoggi.