Trump says US will remain ‘a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia’ despite Khashoggi affair

Trump wrote in a 631-word statement that Saudi Arabia has “been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”
Wednesday 21/11/2018
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House in Washington, on November 20. (AFP)
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House in Washington, on November 20. (AFP)

WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump resoundingly affirmed relations with Saudi Arabia in a statement November 20, saying the US will remain “a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”

Trump’s statement, which was echoed later in the day by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, signaled that the United States is unlikely to impose any additional sanctions on Saudi officials including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October.

Trump also said the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has not made a conclusive determination about whether the crown prince ordered the murder despite news reports according to which it has already concluded that the crown prince was responsible.

Trump acknowledged uncertainty about whether bin Salman or Saudi King Salman had a role in Khashoggi’s killing, but suggested the actions of any individuals were not important. “Our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Trump wrote in a 631-word statement. “They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”

Shortly after Trump released his statement, Pompeo faced a news conference to underscore the message. “The United States will continue to have a relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They are an important partner of ours,” Pompeo said. “This is a long, historic commitment and one that is absolutely vital to America’s national security.”

Trump noted that the US has imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis known to have been involved in Khashoggi’s murder and said, “The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone.” But Trump said that Saudi Arabia’s vow in 2017 to “spend and invest $450 billion” in the US, partly by purchasing American military equipment “will create hundreds of thousands of jobs” in the United States and that the Saudis “have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels.”

Trump insisted that “foolishly canceling these contracts” worth billions of dollars would only benefit Russia and China who “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!”

The U.S. needs a “counterbalance” to Iran which he called a “terrorist nation” adding that Israel needs help, too”.

“If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake,” he said.

Trump’s statement was criticised by members of the opposition Democratic Party as well as by journalism advocates. Some officials suggested the US Congress might try to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, an influential Democrat from California, said on Twitter that she would “vote against any future arms sales and appropriation to Saudi Arabia” .

Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut and influential member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Twitter, “When it comes to the murder of Khashoggi, the [Trump] administration appears unlikely to take decisive action, so it’s up to Congress to determine the consequences.”

Although members of Trump’s Republican Party were not as vocal after Trump’s statement, several influential Republican senators have sharply criticized bin Salman.

Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and an influential member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on November 18, “I am going to do whatever I can to place blame where I believe it lies: I am going to put it at the feet of the crown prince, who has been a destructive force in the Mideast.”

Writing on Twitter shortly after Trump’s statement, Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said that Trump “has just asserted that if you do enough business with the US, you are free to murder journalists. That’s an appalling message to send to Saudi Arabia and the world.” The New York-based committee promoted press freedom around the world.

Trump noted that the Saudi king and crown prince have denied any role in or knowledge of the plan to kill Khashoggi, a US-based journalist who was critical of the royal family, but acknowledged that bin Salman might have played a role. “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 in his statement. “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi.”