Durbin Meets With President Trump's Nominee To Be U.S. Ambassador To Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON – As the Senate votes once again on the Yemen War Powers Resolution to end U.S.-support for the Saudi-led conflict, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today met with General John Abizaid, USA (Ret.), President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, one of many key Ambassador positions that have inexplicably been left vacant under the Trump Administration.  

In the meeting, Durbin pressed General Abizaid on the need for accountability following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, as well as for his commitment to pushing Saudi Arabia on human rights, including political prisoners Raif Badawi, Waleed Abu al-Khair, and a number of women’s rights activists, as well as U.S.-Saudi dual citizen Dr. Walid Fitaihi who has been held without charge since November 2017 and was reportedly tortured.  They also discussed the Saudi-led war in Yemen and the Saudi’s continued export of extremism around the world. 

“Saudi Arabia is a nation that: conducted a cold-blooded murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; is detaining and torturing women’s rights activists, including Loujain al-Hathoul and Samar Badawi; is detaining and torturing U.S. citizen Dr. Walid Fitaihi; is similarly jailing Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair on nonsense charges; is accused of recruiting and using Sudanese child soldiers in its war in Yemen; and continues to turn a blind eye to the export of extremist teachings that have shown up and caused great harm around the world,” Durbin said.  “I urged General Abizaid that, if he is confirmed, he must hold Saudi Arabia to the standards and values expressed by the United States and our allies around the world – not the ones currently being shown and ignored by the Trump Administration.”

A photo of today’s meeting is available here

Durbin has been an outspoken critic of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and has repeatedly voted to end unauthorized U.S. military involvement in Yemen.  In October, he called for the expulsion of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, until the completion of a credible third party investigation into the disappearance and murder of Jamal Khashoggi.  Earlier this year, Durbin led a group of 20 bipartisan Senators pressing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on reports that Saudi Arabia is paying poor Sudanese child soldiers to fight as mercenaries in its war in Yemen, and reports that the United Arab Emirates is arming Yemeni warlord Abu al-Abbas, who the Trump Administration sanctioned in 2017 for being a prominent al-Qaeda military instructor and fundraiser.  Last summer, Durbin joined a group of Senators in a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo urging the Administration to remain engaged on human rights and political prisoner cases.

General Abizaid retired from the military on May 1, 2007 after a 34 year career.  He began his career in the U.S. Army as an infantry platoon leader and rose to become a four-star general and the longest serving commander of United States Central Command.  He served as the Director of Strategic Plans and Policy on the Joint Staff and then Director of the Joint Staff among other leadership positions.  General Abizaid was a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and earned his Master of Arts in Middle Eastern Area Studies from Harvard University.  He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.  General Abizaid is a recipient of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star.  General Abizaid currently serves as the first Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and works as a private consultant at JPA Associates.