Citing ‘US, Israeli interests,’ Trump balks at punishing Saudis over Khashoggi
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Citing ‘US, Israeli interests,’ Trump balks at punishing Saudis over Khashoggi

US president says killing of Saudi journalist won’t derail ties — even if crown prince was aware of murder

US President Donald Trump said Tuesday the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives will not derail the US-Saudi relationship, in a move the American leader suggested also benefited Israel.

“We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Trump said in a statement.

“They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region,” said the US president.

Jared Kushner, the US president’s son-in-law, has worked with the Saudi crown prince on various issues, including on how to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The statement comes ahead of the planned release of the Trump’s administration Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, reportedly early next year.

The references to Iran in the White House statement drew mockery from the Islamic Republic’s foreign minister on Tuesday night.

“Mr. Trump bizarrely devotes the FIRST paragraph of his shameful statement on Saudi atrocities to accuse IRAN of every sort of malfeasance he can think of. Perhaps we’re also responsible for the California fires, because we didn’t help rake the forests— just like the Finns do?” wrote Mohammad Javad Zarif on Twitter.

Trump said in a statement that the US does not condone the killing of the US-based Saudi columnist, but that “foolishly” canceling $110 billion in arms sales — as some in Congress have suggested — would only mean that Saudi Arabia would go to other countries to acquire them.

In this photo taken on December 15, 2014, Jamal Khashoggi looks on at a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama. (AFP/Mohammed Al-Shaikh)

Trump’s decision, announced in a statement released just before he left for the long Thanksgiving weekend in Florida, will disappoint and anger critics who have called for a much firmer rebuke to the kingdom and especially bin Salman.

US intelligence officials have concluded that bin Salman, the kingdom’s de factor leader, ordered the Oct. 2 killing, according to a U.S. official familiar with the assessment. Others familiar with the case caution that while it’s likely that the crown prince had a role in the death there continue to be questions about the degree to which he was involved.

The US earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing, but members of Congress have called for harsher actions.

Trump said Tuesday in his statement that the king of Saudi Arabia and the crown prince “vigorously deny” any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Khashoggi.

“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!” Trump said.

Over the weekend, Trump called reports that the crown prince ordered the killing “premature.” He said that it was “possible” and that it was also possible that people will never know the truth.

Trump said he knows some members of Congress will disagree with his decision. He said he would listen to their ideas, but only if they are focused on US national security.

“America First!” he wrote.

Late last week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that calls for suspending weapons sales to Saudi Arabia; sanctions on people who block humanitarian access in Yemen or support the Houthi rebels; and mandatory sanctions on those responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

“There must be a transparent, credible investigation into Khashoggi’s murder,” New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in introducing the bill with two Democratic and three Republican colleagues.

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