US President Donald Trump says he's not satisfied with Saudi Arabia's response to Jamal Khashoggi's killing but warns against halting massive US arms deal with Riyadh, saying it would "hurt" American jobs.

Trump says Saudi Arabia is valued as a historic customer for the US weapons industry, and that the US also relies on the kingdom in the fight against terror.
Trump says Saudi Arabia is valued as a historic customer for the US weapons industry, and that the US also relies on the kingdom in the fight against terror. (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump said on Saturday he was not satisfied with Saudi Arabia's response to a dissident journalist's death, but warned against scrapping a multibillion-dollar deal with the conservative kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has admitted that critic Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its Istanbul consulate after a physical altercation, in a major dialing back of two weeks of denials, but the whereabouts of his body remain unclear. 

TRT World's Jacob Brown reports from Istanbul, Turkey.

It said 18 Saudis have been arrested in connection with his death and two top aides of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as three other intelligence agents, have been sacked.

"I'm not satisfied until we find the answer. It was a big first step. It was a good first step," Trump said of the move.

"But I want to get to the answer."

Trump defends arms sale

Yet Trump also warned against halting the massive arms deal with Riyadh, saying it would hurt American jobs, despite the international furor over Khashoggi's death.

"We have $450 billion, $110 billion of which is a military order, but this is equipment and various things ordered from Saudi Arabia," Trump told reporters. 

"It's over a million jobs; that's not helpful for us to cancel an order like that. That hurts us far more than it hurts them," he added, noting Riyadh could obtain the weapons from other countries like China or Russia.

"But there are other things that could be done, including sanctions."

TRT World spoke with political analyst Ahmed Bedier, who saidTrump is changing position on Riyadh just like Riyadh's multiple versions on Khashoggi's fate.

Test for US-Saudi ties

Turkish officials have accused Riyadh of carrying out a state-sponsored killing and dismembering the body, which police have begun hunting for in an Istanbul forest.

Trump has said he found the explanation "credible" despite continued skepticism from some US lawmakers, including Republicans.

The US president has said that Saudi Arabia is valued as a historic customer for the US weapons industry, and that the US also relies on the kingdom in the fight against terror.

But the controversy over Khashoggi's death has blown up into a major crisis for Crown Prince, a Trump administration favorite widely known as MBS whose image as a modernising Arab reformer has been gravely undermined.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies