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Bolton says he won't listen to Khashoggi murder tape since he doesn't speak Arabic

US National Security Adviser John Bolton defiantly asks reporters why they think he should listen to recording of Jamal Khashoggi's killing
Bolton answered questions from reporters on Tuesday at the White House (Reuters)
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US National Security Adviser John Bolton has said he doesn't need to listen to the audio recording of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder because he doesn’t understand Arabic.

Speaking to reporters in a confrontational manner on Tuesday, Bolton asked: “Why do you think I should? What do you think I'll learn from it?

“I’m just trying to make the point that everybody who says ‘why don’t you listen to the tape’ – unless you speak Arabic, what are you going to get from it?” he said.

Bolton's comments come as US President Donald Trump is under pressure from members of his own Republican party, as well as US intelligence officials and Democrats, to take decisive action to hold Saudi leaders accountable for Khashoggi's murder.

Trump's administration has defended Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, since the killing of Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and prominent columnist for the Washington Post who was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

As national security adviser, Bolton reports directly to Trump on matters relating to foreign policy and military affairs and leads the National Security Council, which dictates the White House's national security policy to other branches of the federal government.

Last week, in a meandering written statement, Trump vowed to remain a "steadfast partner" of Saudi Arabia despite the murder, saying both Saudi King Salman and bin Salman, the country's de facto ruler, deny having any knowledge of the journalist's killing.

The US president has also repeatedly cast doubts on the CIA's assertion that bin Salman, also known as MBS, ordered Khashoggi's murder.

Saudi officials have repeatedly denied that the crown prince had any knowledge of the plan to murder Khashoggi or cover up the crime, but human rights groups, journalists, UN experts and others have pointed the finger at MBS, saying it's impossible he was not involved.

Republicans split with Donald Trump over Khashoggi killing
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The case has caused a split between Trump and some prominent politicians within his own Republican party.

On Sunday, several US senators rejected the president's attempts to discredit the CIA's conclusion that MBS ordered Khashoggi's murder.

"I disagree with the president's assessment. It's inconsistent with the intelligence I've seen" implicating the crown prince, Republican Senator Mike Lee said on NBC's Meet the Press television show.

Other Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul and Bob Corker, have been unsparing in their assessments of Saudi Arabia's involvement in Khashoggi's killing, saying MBS must have been involved.

"I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia," Corker, the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is set to retire next year, wrote on Twitter.

No confirmed Trump-MBS meeting in Argentina

Amid the controversy over the US's response to Khashoggi's killing, the White House said Trump has no plans to meet with bin Salman when the two leaders are in Argentina this week for a G-20 summit.

Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday that an informal meeting may happen, however.

"I wouldn't say we've ruled out any interaction," she said, although she stressed that "the president's schedule is pretty packed".

Earlier this week, Argentina announced it was examining whether to file criminal charges against MBS over his role in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Human Rights Watch said the inquiry was opened after the group and an Argentine federal prosecutor lodged a complaint against the Gulf kingdom for violating international war crimes laws, according to a New York Times report.

Still, officials in Argentina have said bin Salman’s arrest, while he is in the South American country next week for the G-20 summit, is “extremely unlikely," the Times reported.