US defence bill stripped of penalties against Saudi regime

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - A controversial defence bill passed by the US House of Representatives this week was stripped of penalties against Saudi Arabia over human rights issues, according to US media.

The annual defence bill was due to include tougher measures against Saudis connected to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but these were taken out of the final draft, sources told CNN on Friday.

These would have included revoking visas for figures responsible for the murder of the Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, a crime linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de-facto ruler.

This led to accusations that President Donald is attempting to shield Khashoggi from criticism.

The National Defense Authorization Act was to include the Saudi Human Rights Accountability Act, which was immediately sanction senior Riyadh officials. The revoking of visas measure was pulled from the final draft of the bill this week.

There is a requirement for a full list of the people responsible for Khashoggi's murder to be presented to the US Congress within 30 days of the act being signed.

Without specific penalties then the act is toothless, sources told the US broadcaster.

"It is a list, but with no explicit consequences," the source said. "We needed more than that."

Also deleted from the final act was a ban on certain arms sales to Saudi Arabia - such as precision-guided missiles - as well has intel sharing, which have been used by Riyadh in the war in Yemen, which has killed at least 13,000 Yemenis and caused one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

Sources told CNN that the Saudis were satisfied with the amendment to the bill.

Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump the president's son-in-law, was the key figure in opposing the measures against Riyadh, the sources added.

He is known to have a close relationship with Mohammed bin Salman, speaking to him regularly via WhatsApp.

This is despite the CIA allegedly concluding that the crown prince ordered the murder of Khashoggi.

There is also anger about Saudi Arabia's appalling human rights record, which includes the mass jailing of activists and perceived government critics, including women's rights campaigners.

"This is a President who has a Saudi Arabia first foreign policy," Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski said this week.

"This is a president who is mysteriously submissive to (bin Salman), to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, whose first instinct whenever Saudi Arabia does anything contrary to US interests is to defend the Saudis rather than defending America. That makes me very, very angry."

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