Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, was pressed about his defense of Saudi Arabia amid talk about the Biden administration granting one of its leader’s immunity in a lawsuit.
The government of Saudi Arabia has been the target of a lawsuit concerning the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Turkish consulate in 2018. The suit was brought by Democracy for the Arab World Now, an advocacy group Khashoggi founded, and Hatice Cengiz, his fiancée. On Thursday, Richard Visek, an acting legal adviser for the U.S. State Department, wrote in a letter that the department “recognizes and allows” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s claim to legal immunity as a foreign head of state.
Cotton appeared on Fox News Sunday where, amid discussion of several other topics, host Shannon Bream asked if he viewed the decision as a “betrayal” of American values, given Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights abuses. Cotton, typically critical of the Biden administration, defended the decision as maintaining diplomatic traditions and highlighted other nations that he claimed were worse on human rights.
“What the administration decided this week in granting sovereign immunity to Mohammed bin Salman is in keeping with the practice and custom of lawsuits involving foreign heads of state,” Cotton said. “It would have been a major break of those customs to not grant that kind of immunity.
“What I would say is that Saudi Arabia is far from the world’s worst abuser of human rights. You look at what’s been happening in Iran for the last three months, for instance, and the way they’ve massacred protesters in the streets. Or what China does to harvest human organs or commit genocide against religious and ethnic minorities. Look, if we didn’t have allies or partners who don’t share our political systems, or our cultural and social sensibilities, we wouldn’t have many allies or partners,” the senator added.
In response, Bream then asked if the administration’s decision was essentially putting aside the murder of Khashoggi. While agreeing that the government should not overlook such things, Cotton also emphasized his belief that the United States should look more for pro-American allies rather than pro-democratic ones.
“The way I look at it is what matters most about governments around the world is less whether they are democratic or not democratic, and more whether they are pro-American or anti-American,” Cotton continued. “And the simple fact is that Saudi Arabia has been an American partner going back 80 years.”
Newsweek reached out to Cotton’s office for comment.