President Trump has issued a full-throated defense of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
Rabat – The president’s remarkable 633-word statement, issued Tuesday, defies reports by the CIA that emerged last week, which concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) was most likely culpable for the death of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi was last seen walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Shortly after he entered, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a 15-man Saudi hit squad who flew in Turkey from Riyadh the same day he was to visit the consulate. In connection with the slaying, Saudi prosecutors have indicted 11 defendants and are seeking the death penalty for five of them.
Trump’s statement begins with a single sentence proclaiming, “The world is a dangerous place!” He then opens with passages comparing Saudi Arabia and Iran’s relationships with the United States. Trump places the blame for Yemen’s catastrophic civil war squarely at Iran’s feet, stating, “Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave.”
Reporters at the New York Times claim Trump dictated the blustering statement himself, a reflection of his “deeply held views” about Riyadh’s role in the administration’s foreign policy goals for the Middle East. He went on to praise the Saudis pledge to invest billions of dollars to counter “radical Islamic terrorism,” a phrase used frequently by Trump.
Beyond a strategic alliance, Trump praised the Saudis promised investments in US weapons and the American economy at large. He specifically cited $110 billion of arms sales to manufacturers such as Raytheon and Boeing, a number which analysts contacted by the Times disputed. “Economists and military analysts said those numbers were so exaggerated as to be fanciful.”
Since Trump has taken office, the Saudis have not concluded a single arms deal with the US.
The president left open the possibility that MBS may have had direct knowledge of the plan to kill Khashoggi before it happened. “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump wrote. He added, “We may never know.”
He then went on to state Riyadh’s importance to the US superseded the death of Khashoggi, who was a permanent US resident. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 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.”
The statement blindsided lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Washington D.C., and was condemned widely by human rights organizations. Even Trump’s close allies expressed disagreement.
“The behavior of the crown prince — in multiple ways — has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a frequent golf partner of the president.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a bipartisan letter to Trump demanding his administration determine conclusively MBS’s role in the death of Khashoggi.
With outrage being expressed in equal measure by both Republicans and Democrats, there is a possibility that Congress may pass further sanctions on Saudi Arabia, with enough votes that the president may not be able to veto. Last week the administration announced financial and travel restrictions on those originally arrested by Saudi Arabia.