President Donald Trump has ruled out new punitive measures against Saudi Arabia over the grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi, saying he will not “foolishly” cancel US$110 billion ($153 billion) in arms contracts.
In an exclamation-mark laden statement issued on Wednesday morning (Australian time), Mr Trump said the king and crown prince of Saudi Arabia “vigorously deny” any knowledge of the planning and execution of the October 2 murder of The Washington Post columnist at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The President conceded that “it could well be that the crown prince had knowledge,” before concluding: “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”
While Mr Trump said that the US does not condone the killing of Mr Khashoggi, “foolishly” cancelling $110 billion in arms sales, as some in Congress have suggested.
The President claimed that cancelling the arms sales would only benefit China and Russia, which would be glad to step in and make the sales.
The Trump administration, which is expected to receive a CIA assessment on Mr Khashoggi’s murder later on Wednesday, has been under pressure to follow its European allies in adopting a tougher stance against Saudi Arabia.
Although the CIA has reportedly assessed with “high confidence” that the Crown Prince ordered Mr Khashoggi’s murder, US intelligence agencies do not normally offer a definitive conclusion.
Turkish investigators have concluded Mr Khashoggi, and outspoken critic of the Saudi ruling family, was murdered shortly after entering the consulate before his body was dismembered and disposed of.
Mr Trump described Saudi Arabia as a “great ally in our very important fight against Iran” adding that the US 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!” he said.
The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis accused of participating in the killing, but lawmakers in the US Congress want tougher measures.
The President’s statement, subtitled “America First!” linked the US relationship with Saudi Arabia to the safety of the United States.
“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!” he said.