As Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often called MbS, visits the United States this week to meet with President Donald Trump and reaffirm U.S. support for his nation's bombing of Yemen, human rights advocates are raising alarms about the "public-relations tour" and yet another round of U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
"President Trump must hold Saudi Arabia's government accountable for its serious violations of international law and immediately end the sale of arms to the Saudi-led coalition," declared Raed Jarrar, advocacy director of Middle East North Africa at Amnesty International USA.
"The Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly committed horrific violations in Yemen, some amounting to war crimes, devastating the lives of thousands of people," Jarrar noted. "If the U.S. government doesn't stop supplying arms to this coalition, it risks complicity in the deaths of countless more people."
Last year, the Trump adminstration lifted arms sales regulations on Saudi Arabia, and MbS's trip is largely seen as a ploy to guarantee a continuation of the steady stream of U.S. weapons and support to the Saudis.
As Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be in Washington, here's a weapons breakdown of the Trump Admin.'s proposed $17.86B in arms to #SaudiArabia in 2017 and a $500M proposed sale for the continuation of missile system support services from Jan 17, 2018 https://t.co/DD391XjakQ pic.twitter.com/s7abfbyVd0
— SecurityAssistanceM (@SAMonitorOrg) March 15, 2018
Jeff Abramson, a senior fellow at Arms Control Association, pointed out that the trip comes "as an increasing number of countries are concluding that selling weapons to Saudi Arabia is irresponsible." Noting that last year, Trump "bragged about massive arms deals to Saudi Arabia," he concluded that "the president is likely to again back Riyadh with arms and military support."
"Instead, the Trump administration should use its influence to find a political solution to the disastrous war and human suffering in Yemen, rather than send more weapons into an unwinnable conflict and into the hands of a country that uses U.S. weapons against civilian targets," Abramson asserted. "If the president remains on a disastrous course, Congress needs to step in."
The Saudi prince's visit comes as members of Congress—under pressure from constituents and human rights advocates who are horrified by the air strikes, cholera outbreak, and widespread starvation in Yemen—are considering a resolution that would block Trump from continuing U.S. military support for the war without congressional approval.
"But don't get sucked into the media hype, seeded by well-paid PR firms, that the prince is a reformer who is bringing substantive change to the kingdom," warned CodePink's Medea Benjamin in a Monday column at Common Dreams.
"From political meetings with Donald Trump and Congress to cultural events at D.C.'s Kennedy Center, a talk at MIT, gatherings with tech leaders in Silicon Valley and oil executives in Houston, the prince," Benjamin explained, "will be selling dolled-up versions of both his repressive kingdom and his favorite product from the House of Saud: himself."
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Ahead of his arrival in Washington on Monday, the Saudi leader gave his first American television interview to CBS's "60 Minutes" on Sunday, in a segment denounced as an "infomercial" by media critic Adam Johnson.
O'Donnell brought up vague human rights abuses (didnt name any names) & Yemen bombing but mostly let MbS spin without pushback and framed war as tit for tat between equals. Used "revolution" PR framing. Did silly straw poll/interviews of random rich Saudis https://t.co/UPjqoMcEar
— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) March 19, 2018
The royal prince told CBS that "only death" will keep him from ruling Saudi Arabia. He also claimed that he "believes in many of the principles of human rights," and that women are "absolutely" equal to men.
Yet, as Akshaya Kumar of Human Rights Watch noted, women's rights are still strictly limited in Saudi Arabia:
A long way to go @Hala_Aldosari explains, because of a discriminatory system where #Saudi women can't obtain a passport, marry, travel, or exit prison without approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or son. #EndMaleGuardianship https://t.co/Fm4V7drrGM https://t.co/dLPuSBF42C
— Akshaya Kumar (@AkshayaSays) March 19, 2018
In response to MbS's visit and recent press coverage, Emma Daly, also of Human Rights Watch, tweeted a video highlighting MbS's various abuses of human rights in both Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
As #MBS visits US to gin up foreign investments & weapons deals a reminder that Saudi record includes unlawful attacks in Yemen,
locking up peaceful dissidents & system to keep women under male control pic.twitter.com/5uEEzqTSfk
— EmmaDaly (@EmmaDaly) March 19, 2018
"The danger remains that at least some parts of the mainstream press will whitewash MbS's record," William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, warned last week. "It's up to opponents of MbS's human rights record and his brutal war in Yemen to make sure it doesn't."
"Far from being a force for 'stability in the region,' as the Pentagon routinely claims when it promotes yet another arms deal with Riyadh," Hartung added, "the Saudi regime has become a force for conflict and division in a region desperately in need of peace."