Trump vetoes bill to end US involvement in Yemen war

Congress had earlier voted to invoke the War Powers Resolution to try and stop US involvement in a foreign conflict.

Trump vetoes bill to end US involvement in Yemen war
Aid groups estimate as many as 60,000 civilians have been killed in the war [Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters]

President Donald Trump has vetoed a bill Congress passed to end United States military assistance in the Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen.

In a break with the president, Congress voted for the first time to invoke the War Powers Resolution to try and stop US involvement in a foreign conflict.

But Trump vetoed the measure on Wednesday with the Congress lacking the votes to override him.

“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” said Trump in a statement.

House approval of the resolution came earlier this month on a 247-175 vote. The Senate vote last month was 54-46.

Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington DC, said at least two Democratic congressmen were calling to override the veto.

“Members of the Congress are also angry that the Trump administration is continuing with the pattern of never-ending war around the world without getting the express permission of the Congress first.

“The question now, can the Congress figure out how to reverse the veto and have this resolution take effect in a couple of weeks’ time,” she said.

Saudi-UAE coalition have launched more than 19,000 air raids across Yemen [File: Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters]

The UAE hails the veto

Congress has grown uneasy with Trump’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia as he tries to further isolate Iran, a regional rival.

Many legislators also criticised the president for not condemning Saudi Arabia for the killing of a Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who had been critical of the kingdom.

Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October and never came out. Intelligence agencies said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in his murder.

Vetoing the measure is an “effective green light for the war strategy that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis to continue”, said International Rescue Committee (IRC) president and CEO David Miliband.

“Yemen is at a breaking point with 10 million people on the brink of famine. There are as many as 100 civilian casualties per week, and Yemenis are more likely to be killed at home than in any other structure.”

The US provides billions of dollars of arms to the Saudi-led coalition fighting against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Since 2015, the US has provided the aerial refuelling of jets, reconnaissance, targeting and intelligence information to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in their campaign against the Houthi rebels who unseated the Saudi-backed government in Yemen.

The UAE has hailed the veto, adding that the decision is both “timely and strategic”.

“President Trump’s assertion of support to the Arab Coalition in Yemen is a positive signal,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter early on Wednesday.

Aid groups estimate as many as 85,000 children starved to death [File: Hani Mohammed/AP Photo]

‘Humanitarian crisis’

Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab governments have launched more than 19,000 air raids across Yemen.

“There are 22 million souls at risk of dying, of being killed. Maybe not of being shot, but being starved to death or dying from medical problems for which they can receive no medicines,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer previously told reporters.

“It is a humanitarian crisis. I would refer to it in even more draconian terms because I think it’s such a conscious effort by both sides to put these people at risk,” he added. “It is necessary for us to act.”

The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country also has left millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Air raids by the Saudi-UAE coalition have hit civilians, hospitals and water treatment facilities. Aid groups estimate as many as 60,000 civilians have been killed in the war and as many as 85,000 children starved to death, with millions more “one step away from famine“.

Ilhan Omar: Muslim lawmaker sees rise in death threats after Trump tweet

Trump and Ilhan OmarOne of the first ever Muslim members of the US Congress has said that a tweet by President Donald Trump has led to an increase in threats against her life.

Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar said the threats were sparked by “violent rhetoric”, accusing Mr Trump of stoking right-wing extremism. “It has to stop,” she added.

It comes after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced a new “security assessment to safeguard” the lawmaker.

The tweet showed Ms Omar talking to a US-Muslim group about the 9/11 attacks.

On Monday Mr Trump stepped up his attacks against Ms Omar, calling her “out of control”.

He also said Mrs Pelosi “should look at the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ungrateful US HATE statements Omar has made” before defending her.

What’s the background?

Congresswoman Omar has become a lightning rod for criticism following her 2018 election.

Mr Trump tweeted on Friday “WE WILL NEVER FORGET” alongside a 43-second edited video showing footage of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, spliced with a speech by Ms Omar.

“Some people did something,” she is seen saying, in between footage of planes hitting the World Trade Center, damage to the Pentagon and people fleeing buildings.

Democrats claimed the video does not provide context to Ms Omar’s 20-minute speech to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) on 23 March.

She was discussing civil rights for Muslim Americans in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Cair, she said, was founded “because they recognised that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties”.

Republican critics said that her comment “some people did something” was offensive to the nearly 3,000 Americans killed in the attacks.

How has Ms Omar responded?

In a statement on Sunday, Ms Omar said: “Since the president’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life – many directly referring or replying to the president’s video”.

She thanked security officials for “their attention to these threats” and accused Mr Trump of fuelling a rise in “violent crimes and other acts of hate by right-wing extremists and white nationalists”.

She also expressed concern that Mr Trump’s visit to her home state of Minnesota on Monday could lead to an increase in hate crimes and assaults.

“Violent rhetoric and all forms of hate speech have no place in our society, much less from our country’s Commander in Chief.

“We are all Americans. This is endangering lives. It has to stop,” she said.

Earlier this month a man was charged with threatening to kill Ms Omar over her Muslim faith.

Presentational grey line

The Republican strategy on Ilhan Omar

Analysis by Jon Sopel, North America Editor, BBC News

Ilhan Omar is taking one helluva kicking. But this is brutality with a purpose for Republican strategists.

In his State of the Union address the president said he would save America from Socialism. As ‘radical’ ‘progressive’ Democrats become ever more vocal – whether on the environment, Israel, raising taxes, pushing socialised medicine – so the president sees this as a way of peeling away ‘moderate’ Democrats and independents. The political centre of gravity in the US is way to the right of what it is in Europe.

But the president has also got his shovel out and dug a deep hole, covered it with some brush and leaves, and is lying in wait for the Democratic Party leadership to fall into the trap he’s set.

Are they going to ally themselves with the young Minnesota congresswoman, in which case he will hang those four words around their necks too, or will they abandon her – allowing the president to proclaim how divided the Democratic Party is? But the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi is a wily operator, and she doesn’t blunder into much blindly – much though Donald Trump wants her to.

Read more analysis from Jon Sopel

Presentational grey line

What is reaction?

On Sunday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Mr Trump wishes “no ill will and certainly not violence” towards the first-term lawmaker.

Referring to her previous controversial comments, in which Ms Omar questioned US support for Israel, Ms Sanders added: “It’s absolutely abhorrent the comments that she continues to make and has made and they look the other way.”

The tweet, which had been posted to the top of Mr Trump’s Twitter feed on Sunday, was removed after Mrs Pelosi made the request to the White House, but is still viewable on his feed.

“The President’s words weigh a tonne, and his hateful and inflammatory rhetoric creates real danger,” she said in a statement while travelling in London.

“President Trump must take down his disrespectful and dangerous video,” she said, adding that security officials are reviewing Ms Omar’s protection and “will continue to monitor and address the threats she faces”.

Ilhan Omar: The 9/11 row embroiling the US congresswoman

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar in front of US flag (file photo)A Democratic congresswoman says she will not be silenced after facing a barrage of criticism over comments she made about the 9/11 attacks – including from Donald Trump.

The US president tweeted “WE WILL NEVER FORGET” alongside a video showing footage of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks spliced with a speech by Representative Ilhan Omar.

“Some people did something,” she is seen saying, in between footage of planes hitting the Twin Towers and people fleeing the buildings.

Republicans have accused her of downplaying the attacks, but Democrats have largely rallied to her defence, saying she had been quoted out of context and some accusing Mr Trump of inciting violence against her and Muslims. Here is how the row developed.

Who is Congresswoman Omar?

Ms Omar won a Minnesota seat in the House of Representatives last November, becoming one of the first two Muslim women ever elected to the US Congress.

Her family originally came to the US as refugees from Somalia and she is the first congresswoman to wear the hijab.

Despite being a newcomer to Washington, this is not the first time Ms Omar has made headlines.

She has been accused of anti-Semitism over comments she made about Israel and pro-Israel lobbyists. After being rebuked last month, including by Democrats, she apologised and said she was “listening and learning”.

The congresswoman has also raised the alarm about anti-Muslim rhetoric surrounding her, in response to a Republican poster that showed her alongside the Twin Towers.

Just last week, police arrested a 55-year-old man in New York state for allegedly calling her office with a graphic death threat in which he reportedly labelled her a “terrorist”.

What did she say?

The “some people did something” quote was from a speech Ms Omar gave to a civil rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), on 23 March.

In the 20-minute speech she discussed issues affecting the community like Islamophobia and the recent mosque attack in New Zealand.

The comments in Mr Trump’s video were taken from a point she made about the treatment of US Muslims in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks:

“Here’s the truth. For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. Cair was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

After the Washington Post fact-checked the statement to clarify Cair was actually founded in 1994, a spokesman for Ms Omar told the paper that she misspoke and meant to say the organisation’s size had doubled after the attacks.

How did the row develop?

Her speech began getting attention on 9 April, when a clip was shared by Texas Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw, who described her phrasing as “unbelievable”.

Conservative media outlets, including Fox News, then started discussing it in-depth.

Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, described the congresswoman as “anti-American”.

Twitter post by @GOPChairwoman: Ilhan Omar isn’t just anti-Semitic – she’s anti-American.Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives to Islamic terrorists on 9/11, yet Omar diminishes it as  “Some people did something.”Democrat leaders need to condemn her brazen display of disrespect.

Ms Omar responded by calling some of the comments as “dangerous incitement, given the death threats I face” and comparing her remarks to ones made by former President George Bush.

On Thursday, the New York Post published a front-page spread of an image of the attack with the headline: “Here’s your something”

The cover proved divisive. Some on social media praised it, but others heavily criticised the use of 9/11 images.

Then, on Friday, President Trump posted the video of Ms Omar. It is currently pinned to the top of his account and has been shared tens of thousands of times.

What was the response?

Many social media users responded by using #IStandWithIlhan – which trended worldwide on Twitter on Friday.

CNN showed the clip in discussions, but then presenter Chris Cuomo apologised for airing it. MSNBC host Joy Reid also refused to show it.

A number of high-ranking Democrats, including many in the running for the 2020 presidential nomination, have come out to criticise Mr Trump and defend Ms Omar.

Elizabeth Warren accused the president of “inciting violence against a sitting congresswoman”.

Bernie Sanders referred to “disgusting and dangerous attacks” against Ms Omar.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris both accused the president of spreading hate.

Kirsten Gillibrand did not defend Ms Omar’s comments but she also called Mr Trump’s rhetoric “disgusting”.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, said Mr Trump was wrong to use the images but also suggested Ms Omar had been dismissive of the attacks.

One reply to Ms Pelosi, by film director and frequent Trump critic Ava DuVernay, which said Ms Pelosi’s comment was “not enough”, has been liked thousands of times.

Rashida Tlaib, the other Muslim serving in Congress, and another Democratic Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have both called on senior Democrats to do more to support Ms Omar.

Responding directly in a series of tweets on Saturday, the congresswoman thanked people for their support and vowed that she “did not run for Congress to be silent”.

More on this story

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    7 March 2019
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    10 April 2019
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    26 July 2018
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    18 May 2017

Compensation for Victims of 9/11 – Jon Stewart

My name is Jon Stewart, and I seriously need your help.

I’m down in Washington, D.C. right now and just started a petition with my friend John Feal because Congress needs to immediately authorize permanent funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. The Fund is running out of money as people continue to get sick and die from the health effects of the 9/11 attacks, and now families are seeing up to a 70% cut in their payments.

Sign my petition telling Congress to pass the bipartisan bill to support the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Congress must immediately vote to support the bipartisan bill “Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund” to authorize full, permanent funding for the victims and families of the 9/11 attacks.Sign Jon Stewart’s petition

We’ve made numerous trips down to Washington, D.C. over the years to fight for 9/11 victims and their families. Even though the experience is exhausting and infuriating—emotionally and physically—it’s still nothing compared to the daily pain, fear, and uncertainty faced by 9/11 responders and survivors who are in all 50 states and in 434 out of 435 congressional districts.

Jon Stewart petition

Sign the petition.

The number of people coming forward with illnesses and cancers related to the exposures to toxins at ground zero grows every single day. Nearly every other day, another 9/11 responder or survivor reportedly dies from a 9/11-associated cancer. As the consequences of these attacks grow, so too do the costs which are taking a significant toll on the current funding for the victims of this tragic day.

Chronic diseases such as asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and cancer continue to plague those who were exposed to the many toxins and carcinogens on 9/11 and in the weeks and months after.

Currently, more than 45,000 people who are in the World Trade Center Health Program are suffering from at least one certified 9/11 condition caused by the toxins at ground zero, at the Pentagon and at the Shanksville crash site, and a large percentage have multiple conditions.

Sign my petition to tell Congress it is their responsibility to provide the Victim Compensation Fund with all the funding needed to make sure that 9/11 responders and survivors get the help they need and deserve.

The new bipartisan bill “Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund” may be one of the few bipartisan bills that can pass Congress this session–and we don’t have time to sit around playing political games.

To be quite frank, it’s embarrassing that it hasn’t been done already.

This is not a partisan political issue. We will talk to anyone—anywhere, anytime—to make it clear that our loyalty is to those who sacrificed so much for their communities.

We ask so much of our nation’s first responders and volunteers—from firefighters to disaster response volunteers. Let us not repay their selflessness with apathy. Sign the petition. Demand your members of Congress vote to support the bill.

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends and family.

Thank you.

-Jon Stewart

P.S. Watch the video interview I did with MoveOn earlier today.

9/11 attacks’ survivors take Saudi Arabia to court!

Survivors and families of victims accuse the kingdom of helping the hijackers who launched the attacks in 2001.

Some survivors of the September 11 attacks and the families of victims have moved to a New York court against Saudi Arabia.

They accuse the Saudi government of helping the hijackers launch the concurrent attacks in 2001.

They came to the court to demand the Saudi government cough up more information – specific documents that survivors of the attacks believe will shed new light on the hijackers.

Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey reports.

How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn’t killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabi”s King Salman attend a welcoming ceremony before their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on October 

Last week, Saudi King Salman was greeted in Moscow with a lot of pomp and media attention. The 81-year-old monarch arrived with a 1,500-strong delegation amid high expectations for major political and trade deals.

The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia was rich in diplomatic courtesies, but it lacked in substance. What came out of the three days of meetings was much more modest than expected.

The two countries signed only a handful of agreements, most of which were memoranda of understanding. An agreement was reached to establish a $1bn energy investment fund and a $1bn hi-tech investment fund. The two sides also negotiated the sale of S-400 defence systems. But against the backdrop of the $15bn-worth of arms contracts the US recently approved for Saudi Arabia, the Moscow-Riyadh agreement seems quite modest. It very much seems like the high-level meetings in the Kremlin failed to create an appearance of a political and economic breakthrough in relations.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising given that Russia and Saudi Arabia had a 54-year break in relations, during which the US became Riyadh’s dominant partner and security guarantor. Perhaps the outcome of King Salman’s visit could have been very different, if it weren’t for an incident that spoiled Russian-Saudi relations 80 years ago and caused the break.

It is a little-known fact that Riyadh and Moscow used to enjoy remarkably warm relations in the 1920s and 30s. The Soviet Union was, in fact, a diplomatic pioneer in Saudi Arabia: It was the first state to recognise Abdulaziz Al Saud (King Salman’s father) as the King of the Hijaz and the Sultan of Nejd in February 1926.

King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud in 1930 [AP]

The Soviet charm offensive in the Arabian Peninsula in the 1920s was the culmination of numerous attempts by Moscow to gain a foothold in the region prior to that. As early as 1900, Russian imperial military vessels started frequenting the Gulf and making port calls in Kuwait among other destinations. The famous Russian Varyag cruiser visited Kuwait in December 1901 and its captain was greeted by Emir Mubarak Al Sabah despite his agreement with Great Britain not to receive foreign military guests. It was during this visit that the Russians were first introduced to Abdul Rahman Al Saud who was exiled in Kuwait at that time, along with his elder son Abdulaziz, who a year later retook Riaydh from their rivals, the House of Rashid.

As the House of Al Saud was seeking international backing, London looked at young Abdulaziz with a lot of scepticism, which is why he came in contact with the Russian consul in the Persian city of Bushehr inviting him for a visit. The consul visited Kuwait in 1903 accompanied by a Russian military vessel, which caused an outcry in London.

But it wasn’t until after the Bolshevik revolution that Moscow decided to seriously focus on the Gulf. Just like the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union saw the value of diplomatic presence in the region as a way to stand up to Britain.

Apart from pursuing relations with the House of Al Saud, the Soviet Union looked at the Kingdom of Hejaz whose ruler Sharif Hussein controlled Mecca and Medina as a way to reach out to the entire Muslim world. Being at odds with London, Hussein was on the lookout for strong foreign allies, which is why his representative in Rome engaged in talks with the Soviets.

Karim Hakimov in traditional Arab dress [Wikipedia]

Extensive diplomatic communication between Georgy Chicherin, the Soviet People’s commissar for foreign affairs, and Soviet diplomats reveals just how important his vision of the Arabian Peninsula and its role in the Muslim world was. Advocating the appointment of a Soviet Muslim as envoy to Hejaz, Chicherin noted in his memo to Joseph Stalin that “Getting into Mecca is of crucial importance to us because it would increase our influence in Arabia and beyond.” He recognised that the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, was a perfect opportunity to reach out to thousands of Muslims from the British and French colonies and flare up anti-colonial sentiment.

In August 1924, Soviet Consul General Karim Khakimov, a Soviet Muslim of Tatar descent, arrived in Jeddah. Soon after Khakimov’s arrival in Jeddah, Abdulaziz launched his campaign to take over Hejaz, which left newly arrived Soviet diplomats with a dilemma of whom to side with.

Diplomatic dispatches from the Soviet commissar for foreign affairs ordered Khakimov to position himself as an ally of all Arabs without openly showing a preference for either side. “If Ibn Saud pursues a policy of uniting the Arabs, this will be in our interests, and we will also have to try to get closer to him, as we did with respect to Hussein, who tried to unite Arabia,” Chicherin wrote to Khakimov. The Soviet Union saw the unification of Arabs as the first step towards empowering Muslims in the region and undermining British rule over them.

By December 1924, Abdelaziz took Mecca and Khakimov was convinced that the time was right for him to try to introduce himself to Ibn Saud. In April 1925, when Jeddah was under siege, he was allowed to perform Umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca, where Ibn Saud was based, thus getting a chance to meet him – something that no Western non-Muslim diplomat had been allowed to do. Khakimov’s letters to Moscow reveal that his meeting with Abdulaziz went exceptionally well and that even his idea of Soviet mediation between Hejaz and Nejd was perceived positively by Ibn Saud.

By the end of 1925, Ibn Saud controlled Jeddah, and in February 1926 he declared himself King of Hejaz and Sultan of Nejd. As soon as the Soviet mission learned the news, Khakimov did what ultimately earned him the respect and friendship of Ibn Saud. On February 16, Karim Khakimov drove his personal car mounted with a Soviet flag through gunfire from Jeddah to Ibn Saud’s residence in the desert to hand over a formal note recognising his status as the king. The Soviet Union was the first state to recognise his new title. Abdulaziz responded with a letter thanking the Soviet Union for its neutrality during the war with Hussein and expressed readiness for “relations with the government of the USSR and its citizens”.

Soviet-Saudi relations improved further when the Pan-Islamic Congress of Mecca was called in June 1926, whose objective was to resolve the dispute over Mecca and Medina. At the time, Ibn Saud’s control over these holy sights had many opponents among Islamic notables, which is why it was paramount for the king to earn recognition at the congress.

Karim Khakimov and Emir Faisal in Moscow in 1932 [Wikipedia]

Realising this, the Soviet Union did what contradicted the fundamentals of its atheistic ideology: it sent six Soviet Islamic scholars to take part in the congress. Moscow with its 30 million Soviet Muslims threw its weight behind King Abdulaziz, providing the votes for him to be elected the president of the congress. What is more, as a result of Khakimov’s efforts, a Soviet delegate was elected the vice-president of the conference. Having established full diplomatic relations with King Abdulaziz, the Soviet Union dispatched, in 1928, a new head of mission to the kingdom, Nazir Bey Turyakulov.

London’s key concern about the Soviet influence in Jeddah was that it was spreading Communist propaganda among Muslims during the Hajj. Indeed, this was one of the ideas that Moscow had for its diplomats in Jeddah, but in reality, the Soviet mission had a hard time reaching out to both locals and pilgrims.

Faced with a lot of resistance, Soviet diplomats decided to focus on the creation of trade links between Soviet Black Sea ports and Hejaz. Khakimov managed to convince King Abdulaziz to lift restrictions against Soviet goods that existed in the kingdom due to London’s lobbying. In 1929-1930, Soviet goods poured into the kingdom from the port city of Odessa. The biggest achievement of Soviet diplomats in Jeddah was entering the kerosene and benzine market that was almost entirely dominated by the British. The Soviet Union also sent a group of medics to the kingdom to take care of pilgrims during the Hajj.

As a result of Khakimov’s efforts to further develop his ties with Ibn Saud, his son Prince Faisal (who became king in 1969) visited the Soviet Union during his extensive European trip in 1932. Moscow went out of its way to impress Faisal and his entourage by introducing them to the achievements of the Soviet industry, forgiving the Saudi debt that had accumulated by then and, most importantly, offering one million British pounds in financial aid that King Abdulaziz badly needed. While visiting Soviet Azerbaijan, what was going through an oil boom of its own, Prince Faisal was impressed with the country’s oil industry expressing a desire to employ the same technology in the kingdom.

King Faisal meets US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Riyadh on March 19, 1975 [AP]

The 1932 visit to the Soviet Union was the highlight of the Saudi-Soviet relations. King Abdulaziz used Moscow’s offer of financial aid to push London to provide aid and never accepted the USSR’s offer. From that point on, the relations between the two states stagnated. As the power of Joseph Stalin was growing stronger, the relationship between the communist regime and Islam was becoming uneasy. In 1932, the Soviet Union unofficially banned its Muslims from performing Hajj.

Soviet medics continued to work in the kingdom and the diplomatic mission continued to function spreading Soviet propaganda among Saudis. In 1937, the wife of the Soviet consul, a doctor herself, even stayed with the favourite wife of Prince Faisal for several months.

After spending a few years in Yemen and Moscow, Karim Khakimov returned to Jeddah as the Head of Mission in 1935, hoping to revitalise the relationship that during his absence gradually came to a halt. Khakimov tried negotiating new trade contracts with the king, but Moscow was no longer interested. It was the time when Hitler was growing stronger in Europe and Stalin, who was sceptical about the USSR’s presence in the Gulf from the beginning, no longer saw the partnership with King Abdulaziz as beneficial. In fact, dropping any political ambitions for the Gulf was a gesture that Moscow thought would help it partner with England, whose support the Soviet Union sought against Hitler.

The career of the Soviet Lawrence of Arabia ended abruptly when he fell victim to Stalin’s political terror in 1937. In September that year, he was recalled to Moscow for a routine visit to the foreign ministry, but upon his arrival, he was arrested on suspicion of being a spy. His colleague Turyakulov who worked with him on the Saudi file was executed in October 1937. Khakimov was executed in January 1938.

King Abdulaziz was outraged at the news that the two Soviet diplomats whom he considered his friends were killed. Two months after Khakimov was executed in Moscow, American geologists discovered the world’s largest deposits of crude oil in Dhahran. This prompted the Soviet Union to appoint a new head of mission in Jeddah in 1938. King Abdulaziz, however, turned the appointment down saying that he does not wish to see anyone other than Khakimov or Turyakulov in Jeddah. He accused Moscow of inciting a revolution in the Muslim world and broke diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union. In September 1938, all remaining Soviet diplomats left Jeddah and the mission was shut down. With the USSR eliminated as a rival, Britain and later the US took over the development and exploitation of Saudi oil.

Relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia were fully restored only in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has been 25 years since then and Russian-Saudi relations have not developed beyond symbolic visits. Karim Khakimov’s diplomatic efforts to create strong and lasting ties between Moscow and Riyadh remain unparalleled.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Can Russia and Saudi Arabia be allies?

INSIDE STORY

Can Russia and Saudi Arabia be allies?

Donald Trump rushing to sell Saudi Arabia nuclear technology! Yay!

Experts worry tech transfer will allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons, contributing to Middle East arms race.

Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed have developed a close relationship since both came to power [Kevin Dietsch/EPA]
Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed have developed a close relationship since both came to power [Kevin Dietsch/EPA]

The Trump administration is bypassing the United States Congress to advance the sale of US nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns it would violate US law guarding against technology transfers, according to a new report by a congressional committee.

Security analysts worry the technology would allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons in the future, potentially contributing to an arms race in the Middle East.

US lawmakers are concerned about the stability of Saudi leadership under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman because of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen.

Multiple unnamed “whistleblowers” have come forward to warn about White House attempts to speed the transfer of highly sensitive US nuclear technology to build new nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia, according to the staff report by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

“The whistleblowers who came forward have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes,” Representative Elijah Cummings, the Democrat chairman of the committee, said in a February 19 letter to the White House.

The committee is investigating efforts by US nuclear power companies to win Trump administration approval to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

IP3 consortium

A key target of the Oversight Committee’s inquiry is an effort by IP3 International, a consortium of nuclear power producers that began lobbying during the Trump transition in late 2016 and early 2017 to win presidential approval to develop nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia.

Most recently, Trump met on February 12 with the IP3 International representatives and the CEOs of major US nuclear energy producers to discuss developing nuclear power plants in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, a meeting that was initiated by IP3’s founder, retired Army General Jack Keane, according to the committee report which cited Bloomberg News.

The IP3 proposal has been repeatedly promoted to White House officials by Thomas Barrack, according to the report. Barrack is a personal friend of the president who raised $107m for Trump’s Inaugural Committee. US prosecutors in New York are investigatingthe inaugural committee activities.

‘Chaos, dysfunction, backbiting’

The committee released documents describing the IP3 proposal. Cummings’ letter further demands documents and emails from the White House related to its discussions of potential nuclear power development in the Middle East.

Whistleblowers “warned about a working environment inside the White House marked by chaos, dysfunction and backbiting. And they have warned about political appointees ignoring directives from top ethics advisors at the White House who repeatedly and unsuccessfully ordered senior Trump administration officials to halt their efforts”, Cummings said in the letter.

Meanwhile, a US Senate proposal offered by Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat – with support from Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican – seeks to block Saudi Arabia from developing bomb material by prohibiting it from enriching uranium or re-using plutonium from any future power plants.

Trump and the nuclear codes

UPFRONT

Trump and the nuclear codes

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS