US Senate defies Trump over support for Saudis

WASHINGTON • In a rare break with President Donald Trump, the US Senate has voted to move ahead with a resolution to end military support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in the war in Yemen, and lawmakers vowed to push for sanctions against the Gulf kingdom in the new year.

Eleven of Mr Trump's fellow Republicans joined Democrats to provide the 60 votes needed to advance the war powers resolution in the Republican-led chamber.

The move on Wednesday paved the way for debate and a vote on US involvement in a conflict that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

The nearly unprecedented break the 11 Republicans made from Mr Trump was largely symbolic because the House of Representatives is not expected to take up the matter this year. Mr Trump has threatened a veto.

But backers of the resolution said it sent a message that lawmakers are unhappy with the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, and angry about the lack of a strong US response to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers also vowed to keep pushing after the new Congress takes office in January for further tough action against Saudi Arabia, including opposition to weapons sales.

"If you want to buy our weapons, there are certain things you have to accept. How you use them matters," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally in the Senate, told a news conference.

Republicans will hold a slightly larger majority in the new Senate, but Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives, increasing the chances of sanctions legislation passing.

The Trump administration had urged Congress not to oppose US fuelling and other support for the Saudi-led coalition as it battles the Houthis, Shi'ite Muslim fighters viewed by Yemen's neighbours as agents of Iran.

Several lawmakers, however, had urged that Congress keep the Yemen conflict separate from anger over the Khashoggi case.

Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the administration's handling of Mr Khashoggi's killing.

Mr Pompeo repeated his assertion that there was no direct evidence linking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the Oct 2 killing in Istanbul, despite a CIA assessment that it was likely he ordered the killing.

Riyadh had initially denied knowledge of Mr Khashoggi's disappearance, then offered contradictory explanations, including that he was killed in a rogue operation.

Mr Trump condemned the murder but has stood by the Saudi crown prince. REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2018, with the headline 'US Senate defies Trump over support for Saudis'. Print Edition | Subscribe