‘A simple equation’: Donald Trump says he stands by Saudis, despite Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, because of oil prices
- Donald Trump argued that good ties with the Saudis took precedence even if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s murder
US President Donald Trump said he wouldn’t let the murder of US-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi jeopardise US relations with Saudi Arabia, citing the potential impact on oil prices and Iranian influence in the Middle East.
In an unconventional statement on Tuesday headlined “America First!” Trump said he would stand by Saudi Arabia regardless of whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s death. That, he argued, outweighs the “horrible crime” perpetrated against Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post and a critic of the crown prince.
“The world is a very dangerous place!” Trump said, beginning a the 635-word statement that was punctuated with eight exclamation points. “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t! That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi.”
In later comments to reporters, Trump said: “If we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof … It’s a very simple equation for me.”
Trump said on Saturday that the US would issue a “very full report” on the killing, following media reports that the CIA has concluded Prince Mohammed ordered Khashoggi’s assassination.
Trump suggested he would resist efforts by Congress to impose additional punishment on the kingdom after his administration sanctioned 17 individuals alleged to have participated in the murder.
“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.”
Democratic members of Congress responded with swift derision. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said Trump “makes clear that he does not care who ordered the brutal murder” and showed “subservience to the leaders of an authoritarian and murderous monarchy.” Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said “Trump’s habit of siding with murderous foreign dictators over American intelligence professionals is a stain on our democracy.”
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky also was critical. “The President indicates that Saudi Arabia is the lesser two evils compared to Iran and so the US won’t punish Saudi Arabia for the brutal killing and dismemberment of a dissident journalist in their consulate. I disagree,” Paul said in a tweet.
Several news organisations including The Washington Post and The New York Times reported last week that the CIA concluded the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month, contradicting the kingdom’s claim he wasn’t involved. CIA officials have high confidence in their conclusion, which is based on multiple sources of intelligence, The Washington Post reported.
If the Trump administration refuses to tell the American people what it knows about Saudi Arabia's involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, I will introduce legislation requiring the U.S. Intelligence Community to publicly release an assessment. My full statement here: pic.twitter.com/1hwXl537Ip
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) November 20, 2018
Trump told reporters later Tuesday as he left the White House to spend Thanksgiving in Florida that the CIA has “nothing definitive” to prove the crown prince ordered the murder. “We are with Saudi Arabia.”
Trump’s comments contrasted with the stance he struck in a CBS 60 Minutes interview aired October 14. Asked then whether the prince ordered the killing, Trump responded, “We’ll probably be able to find out” and “we would be very upset and angry if that were the case.”
Trump’s statement differed from the message sent by US Vice-President Mike Pence during his recent trip to Asia, where he talked about the importance of a free press – and repeatedly talked about Khashoggi’s death in that context.
President Trump’s habit of siding with murderous foreign dictators over American intelligence professionals is a stain on our democracy that undermines the American ideal... https://t.co/KGqm3CLrvT
— Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (@SenatorShaheen) November 20, 2018
“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity,” Pence told reporters Saturday in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. “It was also an affront to a free and independent press and the United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder.”
Trump said Tuesday the US “intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!”
In addition to the kingdom’s help combating “Radical Islamic Terrorism,” Trump cited purchases of US weaponry and other US investment that he pegged at US$450 billion – a disputed figure – and said “they have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels.”