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Rep. Engel Wants To Investigate 'All Aspects Of Saudi Behavior'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

New York Congressman Eliot Engel is with us next. When Democrats take charge of the House in a few weeks, Engel takes charge of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. And that gives him power to question President Trump's foreign policy. Yesterday, Engel was among the lawmakers who heard from the CIA director about Saudi Arabia's killing of a journalist, and he emerged talking of hearings into, quote, "all aspects of Saudi behavior." Congressman, welcome to the program.

ELIOT ENGEL: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you.

INSKEEP: All aspects sounds like a lot more than just the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

ENGEL: Well, absolutely. You know, the House and the Senate should be doing - should be probing into a lot of these things. You know, we're a co-equal branch of government. We don't serve at the pleasure of the president. And part of our responsibility is to do oversight.

INSKEEP: So you'll be looking at the war in Yemen, I suppose, which a lot of lawmakers have questioned. What else?

ENGEL: Well, when it comes to Saudi Arabia, of course, we're going to look at the whole relationship. But we're also going to look at several other things. You know, the State Department has been emptying out, where we have Korea people, seasoned diplomats, are leaving. Morale is terrible. The budgets have been cut. The whole aspect of the Trump foreign policy, we're going to be looking into it. You know, the current Congress was a rubberstamp. They just didn't want to do anything.

INSKEEP: Let me drill in on the Saudis for a moment, though. You did hear yesterday the classified evidence against Saudi Arabia and we would presume, from what public remarks have been made, also against Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who's been linked to this crime. What should the United States be doing to Mohammed bin Salman personally?

ENGEL: Well, you know, it isn't personal. The alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is one that needs to continue. But it doesn't mean that we can put up with all their behavior. They have to change their ways before we can do business as usual. And I think that that's very important. You know, there are things that the United States and Saudi Arabia have in common in terms of fearing the aggression of Iran.

And so there are legitimate needs by Saudi Arabia. But it doesn't mean that the United States has to sit there and watch a war in Yemen go on where people are dying. There's a humanitarian crisis. People are starving. Children are being bombed in school buses. I think the Saudis have to understand that we're working with them in some aspects. It doesn't mean that we tolerate all the things that they do. And it doesn't mean that we're going to just do business as usual with them because we can't.

INSKEEP: But this is a dilemma, isn't it? We're just hearing here in the United States being reminded that the Justice Department doesn't want to be in the position of indicting a president because the president is the president and is busy being the president and he's the head of state. Mohammed bin Salman is virtually in that position for Saudi Arabia. Can the Saudis put him off limits even as they punish other people or does the United States need to see MBS punished in some way?

ENGEL: I don't think we need to see him punished. We need to talk to him about the disagreements we have. We need to make sure that we're not just going along for the ride. We need to look at every aspect of U.S. policy with Saudi Arabia from top to bottom and let the chips fall where they may.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much for the time.

ENGEL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Eliot Engel of New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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