Trump Calls Saudi Arabia ‘Great Ally,’ Refuses to Condemn MBS for Khashoggi Murder

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – US President Donald Trump declared his strong support for Saudi Arabia, effectively ignoring the CIA’s conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and asserting that relations with a critical ally should not be derailed.

Trump Calls Saudi Arabia ‘Great Ally,’ Refuses to Condemn MBS for Khashoggi Murder

In an exclamation-mark-packed statement that aides said he dictated himself, Trump said that US intelligence would continue to “assess” information but that the United States “may never know all the facts surrounding the murder.”

Speaking of whether the crown prince knew about or ordered the killing by Saudi agents last month in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Trump said, “maybe he did or maybe he didn’t!”

But the president indicated that US interests in Saudi oil production, weapons purchases and support for administration policies in the Middle East were more important than holding an ally to account, and he stressed the importance of staying in the kingdom’s good graces, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

“They have been a great ally,” he said of the Saudis, and “the United States intends to remain a steadfast partner.” Speaking later to reporters as he left the White House for his Florida resort, Trump said, “I’m not going to destroy our economy by being foolish with Saudi Arabia". 

Trump’s defense of Saudi Arabia, whose leaders have denied knowledge of the operation while acknowledging that its agents carried it out, marks another instance when he has sided with the personal assurances of an autocrat over the analysis of his own intelligence officials.

Trump and MBS are likely to come face to face this month at the Group of 20 meeting in Buenos Aires, which both are scheduled to attend. Turkish officials said the crown prince has requested a meeting there with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has all but directly accused him of ordering the killing of Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post who had lived in the United States since leaving the kingdom last year out of what he said was fear for his safety.

Tuesday’s startling presidential statement was quickly condemned by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“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,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) wrote on Twitter.

The Post’s publisher and CEO, Fred Ryan, also heavily criticized the president’s statement.

“President Trump’s response to the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a betrayal of long-established American values of respect for human rights and the expectation of trust and honesty in our strategic relationships,” he said in a statement. “He is placing personal relationships and commercial interests above American interests in his desire to continue to do business as usual with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”

Trump indicated that he would fight congressional efforts to curtail the US-Saudi relationship. “I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction — and they are free to do so,” he said in his statement. “I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America.”

The Post reported last week that the CIA had determined it was effectively impossible that such an operation could have been carried out without the approval of Mohammed, the son of King Salman and the country’s de facto leader. Many of the 18 people the kingdom has said it arrested in connection with the crime were members of the royal guard, and two top aides to the crown prince were reportedly fired. On Sunday, Trump said he was awaiting a full briefing on intelligence conclusions.

The agency’s assessment relied on audio recordings provided by Turkey and intercepted phone calls, as well as other analysis work performed by Saudi experts at the CIA, according to people familiar with the agency’s work. Trump had already received intelligence briefings on the matter, and CIA Director Gina Haspel had shown the president details of the crown prince’s involvement.

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