WASHINGTON — President Trump issued a lengthy statement titled “Standing with Saudi Arabia” on Tuesday, acknowledging that the Saudi crown prince may have played a role in the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey but still reaffirming the American alliance with the Gulf kingdom.
“King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. 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 wrote.
“That being said, 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. 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.”
On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the CIA has concluded with “high confidence” that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing.
In a briefing with reporters, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in reply to a question about possible further actions: “We have been unambiguous with respect to how we have treated the data set that we have been able to get. When America has the information it needs, it will of course do the right thing to protect American interests.”
Khashoggi was a Saudi writer and activist, a legal U.S. resident and a contributor to the Washington Post. He disappeared early last month after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to file required paperwork for his marriage. The Turkish government quickly accused Saudi Arabia of being behind his death. Saudi Arabia initially denied any role in Khashoggi’s killing but backtracked in the face of evidence released by Turkish officials, including an audio recording of the killing.
The U.S. has a copy of the audio, but Trump said in an interview with Fox News that he hasn’t listened to it and doesn’t intend to because it’s a “suffering tape.”
In subsequent statements, Saudi Arabia said Khashoggi was killed during a botched interrogation and then eventually admitted it was a premeditated killing carried out by a team sent to Turkey. Through all of these shifting narratives, the Saudis denied that King Salman or his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a rising power in the country, were involved. A number of Saudi operatives have been charged with murder, and five are said to face the death penalty. The U.S. also sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the killing, and Trump referenced that move in his statement.
Khashoggi’s death came as many critics were reporting mounting repression in Saudi Arabia and a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the kingdom has been involved in a bloody proxy war with Iranian-backed forces.
The Khashoggi killing thrust a harsh spotlight on the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia and particularly the White House’s close ties to the crown prince. Amid pressure to reexamine the Saudi relationship, sources in the White House orbit stressed the country’s strategic importance to U.S. interests, including countering Iran and enacting a peace plan between Israel and Palestine.
In his statement, which was sprinkled with eight exclamation points, Trump’s rhetorical trademark, the president made the case that Saudi Arabia is too important to the U.S. to downgrade the relationship due to concerns about the journalist’s death.
“The world is a very dangerous place! The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria … and much more,” Trump began.
“On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism,” Trump said.
As he has in the past, Trump also suggested that Saudi investments, including deals to purchase military equipment from American companies, were too valuable to jeopardize.
“If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries — and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!” Trump said.
Overall, Trump stressed, “It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!” The statement carried Trump’s foreign policy slogan, “America First!”
“As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!” Trump concluded.
Trump’s statement was issued just as the White House called reporters to the Rose Garden to watch the president issue pardons to twos American turkeys for Thanksgiving.
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