US president says 'it could very well be' that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had knowledge of journalist's murder
Donald Trump has said the United States intends to stand by Saudi Arabia - including the country's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - despite the "unacceptable and horrible crime" committed against Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The US president said both bin Salman, also known as MBS, and his father, King Salman, "deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder" of Khashoggi.
However, all the facts in the case may never come out, Trump said in a statement put out by the White House Tuesday afternoon that is laced with exclamation points and a wide range of incendiary comments.
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"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 said in the written statement.
"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," he said.
Saudi leaders have been under international pressure to investigate Khashoggi's killing and hold top Saudi officials responsible for the murder.
A critic of Saudi government policies and prominent columnist at the Washington Post, Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October after he went inside the building to retrieve paperwork.
Khashoggi's Washington Post editor, Karen Attiah, strongly condemned Trump's statement on Tuesday.
"Trump’s statement on Saudi Arabia + #Khashoggi is full of lies and a blatant disregard for his own intelligence agencies," she wrote on Twitter.
"It also shows an unforgivable disregard for the lives of Saudis who dare criticize the regime. This is a new low."
Trump’s statement on Saudi Arabia + #Khashoggi is full of lies and a blatant disregard for his own intelligence agencies.
It also shows an unforgivable disregard for the lives of Saudis who dare criticize the regime.
This is a new low.https://t.co/mMELjLico8
— Karen Attiah (@KarenAttiah) November 20, 2018
On Friday, the CIA said it had concluded that MBS ordered Khashoggi's murder, several US news outlets reported.
However, Trump has sought to shield his Saudi allies from accountability, casting doubt over the US intelligence agency's findings despite pressure from US members of Congress to re-evaluate the US-Saudi relationship.
On Monday, a senior Saudi source told MEE that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had handed MBS and King Salman a plan to help them weather the fallout from the Khashoggi scandal two weeks after the journalist went missing. The US State Department denied the allegation.
It was widely expected that the Trump administration would reveal on Tuesday what the US has discovered in relation to the crime.
It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!
- US President Donald Trump
The US president revealed that Saudi officials said Khashoggi was "'an enemy of the state' and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood," but he said the decision to stand by Riyadh was not motivated by those comments.
Khashoggi's family has previously dismissed allegations he was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood as baseless and false.
"The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone," Trump said in his statement, which highlighted a recent US Treasury decision to sanction 17 Saudi citizens for their alleged involvement in the journalist's murder and the disposal of his body.
Several top aides to the crown prince were among those targeted by the US sanctions, including MBS's senior adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, and another aide, Maher Mutreb, who was a member of the 15-person Saudi team that was sent to Turkey to kill Khashoggi.
As MEE previously reported, Khashoggi is believed to have been murdered within minutes of entering the Saudi consulate in early October. Turkish officials, most of whom have spoken on condition of anonymity, have also said they believe his body was dismembered inside the building and dissolved in acid.
'America First' strategy
On Tuesday, Trump said the US decision to stand by Saudi Arabia despite the murder is in line with his "America First" foreign affairs strategy.
In his statement, which began with the phrase "The world is a very dangerous place!" - Trump said Saudi Arabia has committed to investing $450bn in the country, including $110bn worth of military equipment sales, to be purchased from US companies.
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"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!" he said.
Riyadh has also been an important US ally in the "fight against Iran," Trump said, and has spent billions of dollars in the fight against "Radical Islamic Terrorism".
"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," he said.
Pompeo defended Trump's comments on Tuesday, telling reporters that the country has an obligation to adopt policies that further US national security interests.
Trump also appeared to dismiss efforts by US politicians to re-evaluate Washington's close ties to Riyadh.
Since the murder, several other members of Congress have also pushed the Trump administration to sanction the Saudi government over what happened, as well as the Gulf kingdom's role in the devastating war in Yemen.
Corker said "everything points" to MBS as having ordered Khashoggi's killing.
Everything points to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, MbS, ordering @washingtonpost journalist Jamal #Khashoggi's killing. The Trump administration should make a credible determination of responsibility before MbS executes the men who apparently carried out his orders.
— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) November 17, 2018
Still, referring to what he called "the different direction" some US lawmakers have urged him to take vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia, Trump said he would "consider whatever ideas are presented ... but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America".
"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!"