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Critics slam Trump statement backing Saudi Arabia as a 'complete disgrace'

Donald Trump's statement of unwavering support for Saudi Arabia in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi's murder has been widely panned online
Trump backed Saudi Arabia in a controversial statement released Tuesday (AFP)

With news circulating that the CIA had identified Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as being behind Jamal Khashoggi's murder, the White House's planned statement on the case was highly anticipated on Tuesday.

Commentators widely expected Washington to at least outline some of what it does and does not know about the 2 October killing in the Saudi consulate.

They were wrong.

Instead, Donald Trump released a wild statement defending the Saudi leadership to the hilt, pockmarked by exclamation marks and anti-Iranian sentiment.

Naturally, the US president's statement sent Twitter into overdrive, as critics, experts and commentators picked apart the defence. Middle East Eye takes a look:

Iran First!

Beginning his statement with “America First!” and “The world is a very dangerous place!”, Trump made his case for defending Saudi Arabia by citing various American interests, including stable oil prices and lucrative arms deals.

In the first paragraph of the statement, Trump began by accusing Iran of being a malign influence across the Middle East:

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 (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more," he said.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, leapt to his country's defence and mocked the way Trump used Iran to defend Riyadh over Khashoggi.

In a tweet, Zarif jokingly suggested that perhaps Iran was also responsible for the devastating California fires, that have left as many as 1,000 people missing.

The joke was a reference to Trump’s recent claims that the fires could have been prevented by “more raking and doing things”.

'Maybe he did and maybe he didn't!'

Amid his justifications for why Washington needs to remain on good terms with Saudi Arabia, Trump absolved the crown prince of responsibility in Khashoggi’s murder by saying he may not have had knowledge of the event.

“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!”

Several US politicians, including Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, were left unimpressed.

Ilhan Omar, who recently made headlines after becoming one of the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress, also criticised the statement.

Oil prices

As well as trying to shield bin Salman from the fallout over Khashoggi's killing, Trump said in his statement that Saudi officials had described Khashoggi as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and an "enemy of the state".

Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “'enemy of the state' and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that.”

As New York Times Middle East correspondent Ben Hubbard noted, this goes beyond any official statements from Riyadh.

Trump’s reasons for not taking action against Saudi Arabia are made clear in the statement:

“After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world… If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business.

A day after releasing the statement, Trump thanked Saudi Arabia for keeping oil prices down.

“If we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof. I’ve kept them down,” he told reporters at the White House, as reported by AFP.

“They’ve helped me keep them down. Right now we have low oil prices, or relatively.”

An 'abomination'

Other critics have said that contrary to what Trump said, it is in the US national interest to allow for freedom of expression.

The US's former ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, called the statement an abomination.

Senator Bob Corker called the White House a PR firm for MBS.

Human rights activists speak out

The statement also stirred outrage among human rights activists, who took to social media to condemn Trump’s comments.

Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares Fund, which advocates for the reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons around the world, called it "a complete disgrace".

Karen Attiah, Khashoggi's editor at the Washington Post, has been at the forefront of a campaign calling for justice for the slain journalist.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also criticised for backing Trump's statement and saying close ties between Washington and Riyadh are necessary to defend US security interests.