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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Let's turn now to a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan. He served under President Bush and navigated the very complicated relationship with Saudi Arabia after 9/11. He says that U.S.-Saudi relations have hit their lowest points since then in the wake of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Robert Jordan joins us now. Welcome.

ROBERT JORDAN: Thank you.

CHANG: So today we heard Defense Secretary Jim Mattis say, quote, "we have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi's death." Do you believe that statement?

JORDAN: Well, I think what he means is there is no confession by the crown prince. There is no tape of him personally ordering something. But I think he is stopping far short of dismissing what has been reported as a CIA finding of high confidence that the crown prince was behind this murder. So I think you've got to parse his words, and he's being very artful in his words.

CHANG: Now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said today that the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia is a necessary, strategic partnership - that the U.S. cannot afford to give it up, despite what happened to Khashoggi, if you believe that the crown prince was ultimately involved. Does the administration have a point there - that this is a strategic partnership that is absolutely necessary?

JORDAN: I think they have a point that it's an important relationship, but they're creating a false choice.

CHANG: What do you mean?

JORDAN: Merely because we have a problem with an ally doesn't mean the alliance has to be ended. We have had a history of occasionally sanctioning allies in the past, and I think we will do so in the future. You can do both.

And I think the administration is creating an artificial choice here by suggesting that if we take more affirmative action than simply denying these murderers a chance to come to Disneyland, we're somehow going to ruin the alliance. That's not what alliances are made of. If it's that flimsy an alliance, then it isn't much in the first place.

CHANG: Now, Secretary Pompeo also said today that if the U.S. were to pull back its support of Saudi Arabia in the conflict in Yemen, the result would be a stronger Iran. Do you think that's right - that that would certainly be the conclusion?

JORDAN: That one's harder to say. I think we can certainly feather our support, as we've already done on midair refueling. We can put limits on the supply of spare parts and technology. I think we can make it clear to the Saudis that our continued support of them in this war is contingent upon better behavior across the board in many other respects.

The Saudis have, for example, not really shown any kind of political objective in this war. They simply want the Houthis to lay down their arms and go away. That is unrealistic. And so we've got to have a better understanding with the Saudis, and the Emiratis, by the way, on what the political objective is. Otherwise, we're simply flailing around in blind support of a crown prince who may be going off the rails.

CHANG: But are you concerned that if the U.S. tries to exert pressure on Saudi Arabia by, in some way, limiting its involvement in Yemen that that could intensify the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen right now?

JORDAN: I don't know how it could get more intense at this point. It is a catastrophe of immense proportions. I think we need to make it clear to the Saudis that there has to be a solution to that part of this as a price, if you will, for continued American involvement in any respect.

CHANG: All right. That's former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan. Thank you very much.

JORDAN: My pleasure. Thank you.

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