‘$400 bn deals with them’: Donald Trump says US with Saudi Arabia over Jamal Khashoggi murder
Disregarding US intelligence assessment that Crown Prince Mohammad bin-Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump on Tuesday said the Saudi royal may or may not have had knowledge of it and all but ruled out any further punitive measure.
In a statement headlined, “Standing with Saudi Arabia”, the president stressed close strategic and business ties with the oil-rich desert kingdom and said the United States has already sanctioned 17 Saudis for the murder, indicating seemingly he was not contemplating further action.
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” he said.
“That being said we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder,” he added.
Asked later by a reporter if Saudi Arabia was getting away with murder, the president said, “No, no, this is about America First. They’re paying us $400 billion plus ($450 billion in investments and deals, as mentioned in the statement issued earlier by the White House)”.
The CIA has concluded on the basis of intercepts and audio recordings that Mohammad had ordered the killing of the journalist, according to multiple media report. And the US has sanctioned close aides and advisers of the crown prince for their involvement in the killing.
But the president remains unconvinced about the role of Mohammad, who is close to the White House and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Khashoggi was a strident critic of the crown prince’s policies and had lived in the US in self-imposed exile since 2017. He was also a columnist for The Washington Post. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, where he had gone to collect some papers for his upcoming marriage. He was killed by a 15-member hit team from Saudi at the consulate and the body was dismembered for disposal.
In a statement packed with exclamation marks, Trump seemed to be siding with the Saudi royals on the killing. He said they have insisted Mohammad played no role in the planning and execution of the killing.
He also repeated their portrayal of Khashoggi as an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. But, he added, trying to put some distance, “my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime”.
But the president left the door open for congressional action. “I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction, and they are free to do so,” he said.
“I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America,” he cautioned.
“I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!”
The Trump administration has struggled to deal with the crisis and the president has been seen trying to shield the crown prince citing ties with the kingdom and the role it plays in containing Iran and dealing with terrorism in the region, and business deals with it and the jobs that they create.
The president reprised that line on Tuesday saying the $450 billion Saudis agreed to spend and invest in the US during his “heavily negotiated trip” last year will “create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth”.
It would be “foolish,” he added to cancel those contracts which will go then to Russia and China. “It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States.”