Senator Rand Paul. (Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

Rand Paul Seeks Vote to Block U.S.-Saudi Arms Sales Over Missing Journalist

(Bloomberg) -- Senator Rand Paul increased U.S. congressional pressure on Saudi Arabia by saying he’d seek to block future arms sales to the country after reports that a journalist was murdered inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul for criticizing the royal family.

Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday he would force a vote to reject sales the next time the U.S. government informs lawmakers of a planned shipment, a response to the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the consulate.

In June, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, notified the Trump administration he would use an informal procedure to block sales to Saudi Arabia because of his concern about the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. That remains in place, according to a Democratic aide.

"Believe you me, I will be forcing votes on them," Paul said in an interview on Louisville radio station WHAS. "It is a point of difference with the president, but who knows, the president may come around on this if there is any evidence they killed this journalist."

President Donald Trump, whose administration has sought to cultivate close ties with Saudi Arabia, said Monday he is concerned about the disappearance.

A Turkish official, speaking anonymously and without providing evidence, said Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate, a claim the Saudi government has vehemently denied.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman told Bloomberg News in an interview last week that Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, had left the consulate shortly after entering it last week and that he was ready to let Turkey search the building.

In 2017, Paul narrowly failed to block $110 billion in sales to Saudi Arabia over its involvement in Yemen’s civil war. The resolution failed on a 47-53 vote, with Republicans Mike Lee of Utah, Todd Young of Indiana, and Dean Heller of Nevada joining Paul in voting against the sales.

Paul’s effort may gain more support this time. On Monday, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, said he’d raised the issue with the Saudi ambassador. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, “If there was any truth to the allegations of wrongdoing by the Saudi government it would be devastating to the US-Saudi relationship and there will be a heavy price to be paid -- economically and otherwise.”

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