Trump defends Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi killing
US president repeats Saudi claim that murdered journalist was ‘enemy of the state’
Donald Trump has expressed his unstinting support for Saudi Arabia and questioned whether Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, knew about the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
In an extraordinary statement issued on Tuesday – which begins with the words “The world is a very dangerous place!” – the US president quotes Saudi officials as describing Khashoggi an “enemy of the state”.
The 649-word statement appears to be a presidential act of defiance against the CIA, which has reportedly concluded that the Saudi prince ordered the killing, and the Senate, which is considering bipartisan legislation that would suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia among other punitive measures.
Mr Trump wrote: “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!”
“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.”
“King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr Khashoggi,” he said.
Mr Trump’s statement seeks to portray Saudi Arabia as an essential US ally in a struggle against Iran, and an irreplaceable customer for US arms sales.
It makes a series of false or unsubstantiated claims, suggesting that Riyadh is buying $110 billion (€97 billion) worth of US weapons. The actual total of offers since Mr Trump took office is less than $15 billion, and the value of actual signed contracts is significantly lower than that.
He said: “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! ”
Weapons experts have said it would take Saudi Arabia decades to reconfigure its armed forces to use Russian and Chinese equipment.
Mr Trump said in his statement: “The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone.” He pointed out that the US has imposed individual sanctions on 17 Saudis identified by Riyadh for their alleged involvement in the murder on October 2nd.
The president said that “representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood”.
Mr Trump added: “My decision is in no way based on that.” But he did not explain why he mentioned the smear against Khashoggi at all.
Nicholas Burns, the under-secretary of state for political affairs in the George W Bush administration, said: “This Trump statement on the Khashoggi murder is beyond embarrassing. It is shameful. He cites uncritically the MBS smear that Khashoggi was a traitor. He argues the US can’t afford to alienate Riyadh due to oil and Iran. He is silent on our most important interest – justice.” The crown prince is oftened referred to by the initiakls MBS. – Guardian