‘ It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event—maybe he did and maybe he didn’t…’
(Eli Stokols, Los Angeles Times) President Donald Trump made it clear on Tuesday that he does not intend to punish Saudi Arabia or Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an American resident killed by Saudi officials in Turkey in October.
The statement came on the same day that a tape, purporting to contain audio of Khashoggi’s final moments, was leaked in the media.
In an official statement issued by the White House, Trump cast doubt on the CIA’s reported conclusions that it has a high degree of confidence that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder and sent his closest allies to Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul to carry it out.
“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 stated.
“That being said,” he continued, “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.”
He called the murder a “terrible crime” and “one our country does not condone” while asserting that “the world is a dangerous place” and sticking to his long-held view that human rights concerns shouldn’t get in the way of economic relationships. He cited deals he made last year with Saudi Arabia that have been widely discredited as inflated and, in some cases, nonexistent.
The president noted that the United States had sanctioned 17 Saudis for murdering and dismembering Khashoggi, whose body has not been found. Yet his statement was a strong indication that he does not intend to penalize Saudi Arabia generally, or the controversial crown prince. In recent days, Germany announced it would rescind arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi prosecutors have indicted 11 people in the murder, including a senior intelligence agent. Of those, five were recommended to be given death sentences.
Trump had said he would receive the CIA’s report on Khashoggi’s murder Tuesday, although it’s not clear if that occurred prior to the release of his statement—which oddly began with his nationalist foreign policy slogan, “America First!”
The president began the statement by pointing to Iran as the primary destabilizing force in the Middle East, and called Saudi Arabia “a great ally” in the effort to counter Tehran.
Trump also referenced the Saudis’ unfounded claims about Khashoggi, a Saudi expatriate who was a stubborn critic of the royal family.
“Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Trump said, “but my decision is in no way based on that—this is an unacceptable and horrible crime.”
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