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GOP Sen. Todd Young Discusses Message He Wants To See Trump Send Saudi Arabia


It's been three weeks and a day since dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing. It's been five days since Khashoggi's death was announced on Saudi state TV. Throughout that time, the Trump administration's position on the killing of Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been evolving. The president has condemned the killing but still has not condemned the Saudi crown prince or said whether he believes MBS, as he's referred to, played a role.

One Republican senator who has been a vocal critic of both the Saudi kingdom's policies and of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself is Indiana Senator Todd Young. He has called the crown prince impulsive and reckless and says the U.S. should send the Saudi leader a message. Senator Young, welcome.

TODD YOUNG: Thanks for having me, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what is the message the U.S. should send to Saudi Arabia right now?

YOUNG: It's crystal clear. Americans won't stand for the sort of behavior we've seen in recent weeks. And I would say, over the last couple of years, the behavior coming from the Saudi government and more specifically from the Saudi heir apparent, Prince Mohammed, is contrary to our values, our international laws and our national security interests.

CHANG: Has it been a mistake for President Trump to put so much trust in bin Salman's pledge to reform his country, then?

YOUNG: Look, I think it's really important that we work with security partners in the Middle East. There aren't many options to choose from.

But we do have leverage as a country to use against the Saudis to bring them into better behavior so that they're not repeatedly killing civilians through airstrikes using our weapons and our fuel, as they've been doing for the last couple of years in Yemen, so they're not murdering journalists like Indiana State graduate Jamal Khashoggi and Washington Post journalist. So these are the sorts of things that we need to not only highlight, but we need to begin holding the government in Riyadh to account - on account of these actions.

CHANG: And on holding Riyadh accountable, some of your colleagues in Congress have been calling for a regime change in Saudi Arabia, for the crown prince to be replaced. Do you agree that that would be a good step?

YOUNG: Well, look, we're still confirming certain details with respect to this most recent tragedy. In the interim, I've been encouraged that the administration is revoking the visas of individuals we already know have been involved in this Khashoggi situation. But I'm not prepared to rule anything out. I think we should suspend all arms sales until we know more. And we most certainly should stop refueling Saudi coalition aircraft who are engaged in the sort of atrocities I just referenced in the country of Yemen.

CHANG: Right. You mention that you would like to see Saudi arms - the Saudi arms deal with the U.S. get ripped up. But President Trump has talked a lot recently about all the jobs that would be lost if this White House tore up that arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Do you share the president's concerns about jobs being lost?

YOUNG: Look, I think that the number of jobs that could conceivably be lost from this are, frankly, fairly minor. I don't see that as a major consideration. I see this instead as a matter of upholding our values. And let's not forget our national security interests here. The country of Yemen has been destabilized by Saudi action. That country happens to be the headquarters of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the most dangerous al-Qaeda affiliate out there. So it's essential.

CHANG: We've talked about what Congress could possibly do to address the situation in Saudi Arabia. But what about the president? Do you believe that President Trump has been vocal enough, calling out Saudi Arabia enough, in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi's death?

YOUNG: Well, I think the president's message as he's gathered more information, it's evolved. He's in a good spot now. In fact, he condemned the Khashoggi death as the worst cover-up ever. That's a pretty strong condemnation for a country that has historically been and will remain - I think - an important security partner of ours.

CHANG: But should President Trump have been so reticent to criticize Saudi Arabia at the beginning?

YOUNG: I think reticence when you're dealing with national security partners is probably a positive impulse. But right now he's in a situation, having gathered more facts, that we have just been experiencing the worst cover-up ever. And so that's pretty strong language coming from the president of the United States.

CHANG: Does it concern you the close ties the Trump administration has with members of the royal family in Saudi Arabia? Specifically, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, has cultivated a very close relationship with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Does that concern you?

YOUNG: You know, we have had strong relationships with Saudi governments for generations. And that's something that has continued with this administration, recognizing that the Saudis have been and can continue to be very important security partners. They provide us valuable intelligence. But I have to admit, that relationship gets undermined as the Saudis deceive us and as they engage in violations of our fundamental values, as they strongly appear to have done in this instance in the Khashoggi killing.

CHANG: Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana, thank you very much for joining us.

YOUNG: Thanks so much, Ailsa.