The Latest: Mattis defends US role in Yemen conflict

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on senators’ closed-door briefing with top Trump administration officials over the U.S. response to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (all times local):

11:50 a.m.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict is central to American security interests.

In prepared marks he’s expected to deliver to members of the Senate on Wednesday, Mattis makes a strong defense of the U.S. role in Yemen and continued close partnership with Saudi Arabia.

Many in Congress are calling for the U.S. to take a tougher stance with the key Gulf ally over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Saudi crown prince must have at least known about a plot.

Mattis says the U.S. is “seldom free to work with unblemished partners” and warns that ending U.S. involvement in the conflict would “be misguided on the eve of the promising initial negotiations.”

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11:35 a.m.

President Donald Trump’s administration is threatening to veto a Senate resolution that would halt U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The White House is issuing the veto threat as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (pahm-PAY’-oh) and Defense Secretary James Mattis are on Capitol Hill briefing senators who are increasingly uneasy with the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (jah-MAHL’ khahr-SHOHK’-jee).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says “some kind of response” is needed for the Saudis’ role in the gruesome death in Turkey.

The Senate is considering a vote on the resolution as soon as Wednesday. The White House says the resolution would “harm bilateral relationships in the region and negatively impact the ability of the United States to prevent the spread of violent extremist organizations.”

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10:50 a.m.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (pahm-PAY’-oh) is defending the U.S. role in Yemen in excerpts of prepared remarks he’s expected to deliver to members of the Senate.

Pompeo says U.S. involvement in the conflict is central to the Trump administration’s broader goal of containing Iranian influence in the Middle East.

A Saudi-led coalition is fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. In remarks prepared for Wednesday, Pompeo says, “The first mission is to assist the Saudis and the Emiratis in their fight against Iranian-backed Houthi fighters. This conflict isn’t optional for Saudi Arabia, and abandoning it puts American interests at risk.”

Senators are set to question top Trump administration officials at a closed-door briefing about the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia over the killing of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi (jah-MAHL’ khahr-SHOHK’-jee).

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12:10 a.m.

Senators are set to question top Trump administration officials at a closed-door briefing about the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia over the killing of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.

The briefing could determine how far Congress goes in punishing the longtime U.S. ally in the Mideast.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says “some kind of response” is needed from the United States for the Saudis’ role in the gruesome death. President Donald Trump has equivocated over who is to blame.

Much will depend on what senators hear from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman must have at least known about the plan to kill Khashoggi last month at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

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