President Donald Trump wouldn’t say whether he believed the Saudi crown prince was involved in journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. | Evan Vucci/AP photo
President Donald Trump on Tuesday called Saudi Arabia a “very good ally” and stood by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, apparently unwilling to bow to bipartisan pressure from lawmakers intent on imposing harsher consequences on the Arab kingdom and its crown prince over the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate last October.
“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump told Reuters in an Oval Office interview on Tuesday, confirming that “at this moment,” standing by the kingdom “certainly” equates to standing by the crown prince. Story Continued Below
Though he wouldn’t say whether he believed the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, Reuters reported that Trump repeated the crown prince’s claims that he “vehemently denies” orchestrating the murder.
The president’s comments, which came on the same day Khashoggi and other endangered journalists were named the persons of the year by Time magazine, are his most explicit in support of the crown prince since he issued a statement last month largely accepting the Saudi leader’s denials and attempting to put the issue to rest.And they’re the first he’s made after members of his administration briefed lawmakers on the killing, providing conflicting messages and driving a bipartisan push for a stronger response to the murder than sanctions already imposed in the wake of the killing. Senators left a briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel last week more convinced than ever that the Saudi crown prince was culpable in Khashoggi’s murder, with Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) telling reporters that “if he was in front of a jury he would have a unanimous [guilty] verdict in 30 minutes.”
The Senate will likely take up a joint resolution formally blaming the crown prince for Khashoggi’s murder, and it is also set to vote on a resolution that would yank U.S. support for Saudi coalition forces in Yemen.
While Trump indicated he could support legislation to end U.S. support for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen, which failed in the Senate earlier this year but has been revived in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder, he warned lawmakers Tuesday to stay away from any action that could put Saudi sales of U.S. weapons in jeopardy. “I really hope that people aren’t going to suggest that we should not take hundreds of billions of dollars that they’re going to siphon off to Russia and to China,” Trump said referring to in arms deal between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
Critics of the Trump administration’s response to the Khashoggi killing, which include some of the president’s biggest supporters in Congress, have argued that the president could take a tougher line on the kingdom while still without putting the countries’ alliance at risk.
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