UK condemns Khashoggi murder, defends arms sales to Saudi

UK condemns Khashoggi murder, defends arms sales to Saudi

Britain condemns the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday when asked whether Britain would suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in light of the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

“We’ve condemned the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, we continue to call for a full investigation into the causes of his death,” Johnson said, adding that Britain was following a long-standing set of rules and conventions on arms sales, reported Reuters.

The condemnation comes in the wake of a recently released U.S. intelligence report saying that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) approved an operation to capture or kill dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered in 2018. The declassified U.S. intelligence assessment was released on Feb. 26 in a manner choreographed to limit damage to Washington-Riyadh ties.

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote opinion columns for the Washington Post critical of the crown prince’s policies, was killed and dismembered by a team of operatives linked to MBS in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in the report posted on its website.

Riyadh has denied any involvement by the crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

While condemning the murder, and the conflict in Yemen which is set to evolve into a much larger humanitarian disaster, Britain has not yet decided to suspend arms sales to Arab countries, unlike Italy and the U.S.

U.S. President Joe Biden issued a temporary pause to arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as his administration reviewed the exports in January. In February, the Biden administration revoked the terrorist group designation of Yemen’s Houthi rebels, which was jeopardizing crucial aid reaching the country. Italy also blocked arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in January, over their involvement in the Yemen war, making an 18-month temporary suspension permanent.

On Wednesday Johnson also defended his government’s plan to halve humanitarian aid for war-torn Yemen. An international aid conference on Yemen this week yielded less than half the funds needed to prevent what the U.N. warns is a looming famine.”

“Cutting aid is a death sentence,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned, in remarks echoed in the U.K. parliament by opposition leaders grilling Johnson at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions.

Britain pledged 87 million pounds ($122 million), about half the amount it offered at last year’s Yemen conference, and only 40% of the total funding it provided to the shattered country during 2020.

“How on earth can the prime minister justify selling arms to Saudi Arabia and cutting aid to people starving in Yemen?” said Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour party.

He pointed to last month’s decision by the Biden administration to pause U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is leading a devastating conflict against Houthi rebels in Yemen, pending a review.

“It is true that current straightened circumstances, which I’m sure the people of this country understand, mean that temporarily we must reduce aid spending,” Johnson replied, noting the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on U.K. finances.

“But that does not obscure the fact that when it comes to our duty to the people of Yemen, we continue to step up to the plate,” he said, noting Britain has given about 1 billion pounds in the past five years since the Saudi-led bombing campaign began.

“It’s a record of which this country can be proud. Given the difficulties that this country faces, I think the people of this country will think we’ve got our priorities right.”

Johnson added that the government continues “scrupulously to follow the humanitarian guidance which are amongst the toughest measures anywhere in the world in respect of all arms sales.”

Citing the pandemic, the U.K. government is planning to scrap a legally enshrined target for its aid budget this year, leading to accusations even from its own ranks that it is abandoning some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, bitterly criticizing the decision on Yemen, and said cutting the U.K.’s overall aid commitment was a “strategic mistake with deadly consequences.”

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