US President Trump has said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “could very well” have known in advance about the plan to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but the US will remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia.
In a statement released Tuesday, Donald Trump said that Khashoggi’s murder was an “unacceptable and horrible crime,”and that as American intelligence agencies continue to investigate the case, “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event.”
BREAKING: US President Donald Trump issues statement in Support of #Saudi Arabia as regional partner & vs Iran.
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) November 20, 2018
Trump went no further with that train of thought, and instead reaffirmed the strategic alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom, he wrote, is an important ally against Iran and a vital supplier of oil.
The president again touted the importance of maintaining the US’ $110 billion arms deal with the Saudi government, which he said means “tremendous economic development” for the US.
Trump’s insistence on maintaining lucrative arms deals stands in stark contrast with the response from some of his allies. On Monday, the German Economic Ministry confirmed that all of its arms deals with Saudi Arabia, including those inked before Khashoggi’s disappearance in October, have been canceled.
Trump did however sanction 17 Saudi individuals last week, including Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, who Turkish authorities believe led a 15-man ‘kill team’ to Istanbul to murder Khashoggi, Saudi Consul General Mohammed Alotaibi, and Mustafa al-Madani, a middle-aged man who was seen leaving the Saudi consulate after Khashoggi’s death, wearing the deceased journalist’s clothes.
Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, was last seen alive on October 2, when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage. Riyadh initially denied foul play, but later began to acknowledge Khashoggi’s death. After claiming that the journalist died in a fist fight with his captors, the Saudis now admit that he was murdered in an intelligence operation gone wrong.
The Saudi public prosecutor announced last week that he will seek the death penalty for five of Khashoggi’s alleged killers.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government has claimed that Saudi officials at the “highest level” ordered the hit. The Turks claim that Khashoggi was tortured and dismembered inside the consulate, and that his body was dissolved in acid by his captors.
The Turks claim to have an audio recording of Khashoggi’s final moments alive. Trump seemed to confirm the tape’s existence when he told Fox News on Sunday that he had been briefed on its contents, but chose not to listen to it, as “it’s a suffering tape.»
Trump’s lukewarm response to the killing has been criticized by lawmakers in the US. Republican Senator Rand Paul said that Trump should suspend the US’ arms deal with Riyadh, and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, also said on Sunday that he considers The Crown Prince personally responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
«They are an important ally but when it comes to the crown prince, he’s irrational, he’s unhinged and I think he’s done a lot of damage to the relationship (between) the United States and Saudi Arabia. And I have no intention of working with him ever again,» he told NBC.
In his statement on Tuesday, Trump said that he understands “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.”
Trump said that while he will “consider whatever ideas” presented to him, he is unlikely to take any steps to shake up his relationship with the Kingdom.