The Biden administration's decision to shield Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from a federal lawsuit in the death of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi was justified and in "keeping with the practice and lawsuits involving foreign heads of state," Sen. Tom Cotton said Sunday, agreeing with the White House's argument.
"It would have been a major break of those customs to not granted that kind of — grant that kind of immunity," the Arkansas Republican said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday," adding that Saudi Arabia is "far from the worst abuser of human rights."
Iran, he pointed out, has "massacred protesters in the streets," and China is also problematic with what it "does to harvest organs or commit genocide against ethnic minorities."
"If we didn't have partners who didn't always share our political systems and social sensibilities, we couldn't have allies and partners," said Cotton. "Saudi Arabia's been an ally for 80 years."
However, President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama "have taken steps to try to ostracize and alienate this important partner," said Cotton. "What we should do is work with them to protect our interests and the interest of our allies in the Middle East."
The Biden administration last week declared that the crown prince's standing as prime minister, which he became six weeks ago on the order of his father, King Salman, shields him from the lawsuit filed in the 2018 killing. It will now be up to a judge to determine if he has immunity.
But Cotton on Sunday said he believes what matters most about other governments is less about "whether they're democratic or not democrat and more about whether they're pro-American or anti-American."
Saudi Arabia has been a partner with the United States for the past 80 years, he added.
"That doesn't mean that we overlook or excuse countries that are pro-American, and we can even help midwife or nurture them into democratic countries like Ronald Reagan succeeded in doing in South Korea and the Philippines," said Cotton. "But to protect American interests, of course, we have to partner with countries that don't always share our political system and our cultural and social sensibilities."
He acknowledged that the administration did not have to weigh in on the Khashoggi death, but it would have been "a major breach with customer practice and international law" had it not.
"When you're talking about individuals who are at the head of a foreign government. It's customary for decades to grant them immunity," said Cotton.
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