Trump administration issues new Iran sanctions, while quiet on possibility of sanctioning Saudis
The Trump administration is leveling new sanctions against businesses tied to Basij, considered a paramilitary force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as the president continues to ratchet up pressure on Iran.
Yet the Trump administration has hesitated to suggest or condone any sanctions as punishment for the Saudis if they are indeed found responsible for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
On Tuesday, senior administration officials outlined the new sanctions against a network of businesses supporting the Basij, asserting the Basij recruits child soldiers and anyone who does business with them must suffer. But those senior administration officials were, as the president has been, cautious to consider the possibility of any sanctions against the Saudis. On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of senators has already set in motion the possibility of new Saudi sanctions, and Sen. Lindsey Graham told "Fox and Friends" on Tuesday the U.S. should "sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia."
Senior administration officials, asked about any new sanctions or approach to the Saudis, pointed to recent comments from President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Trump has suggested "severe consequences" for the Saudis if they're behind Khashoggi's death, but has said he wouldn't want to halt arms sales to the Saudis. The U.S. relationship with the Saudis is a complex one, and the administration has pointed to the Saudis as a force for countering Iranian aggression. Still, one senior administration official suggested the Saudis aren't the only ones who can help the U.S. in its hardline approach to Iran.
"Of course, you know we have a longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia that is very significant to us, but that doesn't mean we're in any way ignoring or downplaying this episode," one senior administration official told reporters Tuesday. "And we continue to believe those who are responsible for it have to be held accountable. And I think that's gotta be our bottom line."
"I think all of our regional partners are extremely important to that effort," the official added. "Obviously the Saudis are one important component, but we have a range of them cross the Middle East in the gulf from Egypt to Bahrain. I definitely agree it's an important relationship, but that doesn't mean we're ignoring all other issues."
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