The United States will continue to back Saudi Arabia even if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump announced Tuesday in a bizarre statement filled with exclamation marks.
“We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Trump said in the statement. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”
“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,” the president added.
The White House’s highly anticipated decision on whether the U.S. planned to hold MBS accountable comes more than a month after the death of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the crown prince.
The Washington Post reported last week that the CIA had determined MBS ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. The Saudi journalist is believed to have been killed soon after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and his body was then dismembered and disposed of.
Saudi Arabia has acknowledged that members of the crown prince’s inner circle were involved in the assassination, but has denied he had any personal knowledge of it. The kingdom has charged 11 people in connection with Khashoggi’s murder and is aiming to sentence to death five of the suspects.
“The world is a very dangerous place!” Trump said in the statement Tuesday. “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 defended his decision to stand with Saudi Arabia by noting the country’s significant investments in U.S. military equipment and other contracts, a shared allegiance against Iran, and its pledge to spend billions of dollars to fight “Radical Islamic Terrorism.”
Additionally, the president said, the U.S. has already taken “strong action” against those “known” to have participated in Khashoggi’s murder. The Trump administration last week sanctioned 17 Saudi officials ― the 15-man hit squad sent to kill Khashoggi, the Saudi consul general in Istanbul and a senior adviser to MBS ― in response to the premeditated killing.
Despite the CIA’s reported findings, Trump’s statement Tuesday suggested the U.S. would not take any further punitive action against Saudi Arabia. The CIA is expected to release its full report this week.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doubled down on Trump’s message during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
When asked whether Saudi Arabia would be affected by Khashoggi’s killing, Pompeo said it’s in the best interest of U.S. national security to maintain a partnership with the Middle Eastern kingdom.
“It’s a mean, nasty world out there ― the Middle East in particular,” Pompeo told reporters. “It is the president’s obligation, indeed the State Department’s duty as well, to ensure that we adopt policies that further America’s national security.”
Saudi Arabia is “an important partner of ours,” he added. “It’s that straightforward. This a long historic commitment and one that is absolutely vital to America’s national security.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Tuesday said she was “shocked” by Trump’s statement and that she plans to vote against any future arms sales to Saudi Arabia. She also called on the U.S. to consider sanctions against MBS.
“Given the fact that Saudi security organizations are under the absolute control of the crown prince, there’s every reason to believe the crown prince gave the order,” Feinstein said in a statement.
“Human rights is more than just a phrase, it has to mean something,” she added. “And that means standing up and condemning a brazen murder by a foreign government. Everyone who played a role in this killing must be held accountable.”
Trump defended his lax stance on Saudi Arabia while speaking to reporters outside the White House later Tuesday, calling Khashoggi’s murder “a shame but it is what it is.”
“We put out a statement on Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “And we’ll see how that all works out. It’s a very complex situation.”
Read Trump’s full statement below:
The world is a very dangerous place!
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. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.
After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. 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!
The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.
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 – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. 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. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. 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. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!
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. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. 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!