The Saudi royal purge — with Trump’s consent

Robin Wright writes: The Trump Administration supports the sweeping changes that have redefined the kingdom—and the royal family—over the past two years. En route to Asia, just hours before the purge on Saturday, the President spoke with the king from Air Force One to praise him and the Crown Prince for making statements on “the need to build a moderate, peaceful, and tolerant region,” which is “essential to ensuring a hopeful future for the Saudi people, to curtailing terrorist funding, and to defeating radical ideology—once and for all—so the world can be safe from its evil,” the White House reported in an unusually detailed statement.

Trump also said that he is personally trying to convince the kingdom to list the first offering of shares in Aramco—one of the world’s most important oil companies—on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq. “It will be perhaps the biggest going-public ever,” Trump told the reporters flying with him. “Right now, they’re not looking at it, because of litigation, risk and other risk, which is very sad.”

Trump did not mention the risk involved in listing the shares in the U.S. but they include the prospect that any Saudi assets in the United States could be seized as a result of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) passed by Congress, in 2016. It allowed the families of 9/11 victims to pursue a civil suit against Saudi Arabia—in a lower Manhattan court—for alleged involvement in the plot. If there is a verdict against the kingdom, the law would also allow a judge to freeze the kingdom’s assets in the United States to pay for any penalties that the court awards.

“That means Saudi Arabia would be extremely vulnerable for listings on the New York Stock Exchange,” Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A., Pentagon, and National Security Council staffer, told me. “And they know that.”

Ironically, Trump supported the JASTA bill—and condemned President Obama for vetoing it. “Obama’s veto of the Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act is shameful and will go down as one of the low points of his Presidency,” Trump said, during the campaign. Congress overturned Obama’s veto—the only time Congress ever overrode him, and in his final months in office. Trump, now, is critical of the bill.

As part of its lobbying efforts against the bill, Saudi Arabia spent more than a quarter of a million dollars at Trump’s new hotel in Washington—for lodging, catering and parking—the Wall Street Journal reported in June. The lobbying included bringing in military veterans to speak on the Hill against the JASTA legislation.

The Trump Administration has heavily courted the House of Saud; Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, made an unannounced trip to the desert kingdom in late October—his third this year. Officially, the focus was the Middle East peace process, but he has developed a close relationship with the Saudi Crown Prince. (Both are in their thirties.) The royal family’s close ties to the Trump Administration have evidently made the king and his son feel comfortable about taking tough actions against their own people. [Continue reading…]

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