In an apparent break with President Donald Trump, outgoing US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley suggested the Saudi government needs to be held in continued account for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“The whole situation with Khashoggi is, we can’t give them a pass. We can’t,” Haley said in an interview with The Atlantic magazine conducted Wednesday and released Friday. “The reason is, you have Saudi government officials that did this in a Saudi consulate. The Saudi government doesn’t get a pass. We can’t condone it, we can’t ever say it’s okay, we can’t ever support thuggish behavior, and we have to say that,” Haley said.
Haley acknowledged that the US had imposed sanctions against Saudi individuals allegedly involved in the dissident journalist’s death, but said the US needed to continue to “push back” until there was full accountability. Asked specifically about whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman needed to be held to account, Haley said “the administration needs to decide.”
“It’s his government. His government did this, and so he technically is responsible,” she noted.
Haley’s comments stand in contrast to the staunch defense Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have launched on behalf of the crown prince. She spoke in the wake of a classified CIA briefing from which bipartisan senators emerged seemingly convinced of the crown prince’s role in the premeditated murder and intent on pushing the administration to take a tougher stand.
“There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said, referencing allegations that Saudi operatives dismembered Khashoggi’s body after killing him on October 2 inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Trump and members of his administration have declined to draw a direct line from MBS to the murder. In a late-November statement, Trump equivocated on the crown prince’s culpability.
“It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” the US President wrote. He defended the strategic importance of the US-Saudi alliance – a point that Pompeo has repeatedly echoed.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed the day before he and Defense Secretary James Mattis briefed lawmakers, Pompeo wrote that, “the October murder of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading US-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the US and its allies.”
Haley’s Atlantic interview underscored the gap between her and her soon-to-be former colleagues, perhaps offering an indication of why she decided to step down at the end of the year.
Though both Trump and Pompeo have cast action against the prince as a zero-sum question in which the entire future of the US-Saudi alliance could be imperiled, Haley dismissed the notion that holding the kingdom accountable would bring about the end of their partnership on issues like Iran and Yemen.
“Everything’s not black and white. That’s the hard part,” she said. “I think that the main thing is: No, we don’t condone this; no, we’re not going to continue to be your partners if you continue to use thuggish behavior. But you know what? That country is our complete partner when it comes to fighting Iran, and our only real partner when it comes to fighting Iran, so it’s a balancing act, but you have to do both.”
CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Phil Mattingly contributed to this report.