Saudi prince 'could very well' have known of Khashoggi killing – Trump

  • 20 Nov 2018

US President Donald Trump says US ties with Saudi Arabia will not be derailed by Jamal Khashoggi's killing even if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were found to bear responsibility.

US President Donald Trump says the US will not levy additional punitive measures at this time against Riyadh over Jamal Khashoggi's killing. ( Reuters )

US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives will not derail the US-Saudi relationship, even if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were found to bear responsibility.

"It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event –– maybe he did and maybe he didn't!" Trump said in a statement.

"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," he said, vowing the US intends to remain a "steadfast partner" of Saudi Arabia.

Numan Kurtulmus, the deputy chairman of Turkey's governing AK Party, dismissed Trump's assessment. "Yesterday's statement is a comic statement," he told broadcaster TRT Haber.

"It is not possible for an intelligence agency such as the CIA, which even knows the colour of the fur on the cat walking around the Saudi consulate's garden ... to not know who gave this order," he said. 

"This is not credible either for US public opinion or the world public opinion."

TRT World 's Francis Collings reports. 

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and one-time royal insider who had been critical of the crown prince recently, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

TRT World's John Brain has more from Washington.

Last week, after offering numerous contradictory explanations for Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh said he had been killed and his body dismembered when "negotiations" to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed.

Not canceling arms contracts 

Trump, in a statement issued by the White House, indicated he had no intention of canceling military contracts with Riyadh, saying, "if we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries."

The US president said the representatives of Saudi Arabia maintain that 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," Trump said.

He said the US will not levy additional punitive measures at this time against Riyadh over the killing.

'America First'

Trump also took a dig at US Congress saying, "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."

Trump said after the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world and Riyadh has worked closely with US by keeping oil prices at reasonable levels.

"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!"

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday called Trump's statement "shameful", in a tweet.

"Mr. Trump bizarrely devotes the FIRST paragraph of his shameful statement on Saudi atrocities to accuse IRAN of every sort of malfeasance he can think of. Perhaps we are also responsible for the California fires, because we didn't help rake the forests, just like the Finns do?" Zarif wrote on Twitter.

Trump, in his statement, accused Iran of "proxy wars" and destabilising Middle East.

Pompeo defends Trump

Later, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump in a news conference.

Pompeo, who spoke following a meeting with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Washington, said the US was obligated to adopt policies that furthered US national security interests.

Trump's decision, announced in a statement released just before he left for the long Thanksgiving weekend in Florida, will disappoint and anger critics who have called for a much firmer rebuke to the kingdom and especially the crown prince.

US intelligence officials have concluded that he ordered the killing, according to a US official familiar with the assessment. Others familiar with the case caution that while it's likely that the crown prince had a role in the death, there continues to be questions about the degree to which he was involved.