Khashoggi’s Murder: Trump Backs Saudi Crown Prince Despite Criticism

Trump To Visit Pittsburgh After Synagogue Massacre
US President Donald Trump speaks during an event on a year of progress and action to combat the opioid crisis, in the East Room of the White House on October 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. PHOTO: Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

President Donald Trump vowed on Tuesday to stick by ally Saudi Arabia even while admitting that de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have been behind the brutal murder of a dissident journalist.

“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. “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner.”

The gruesome murder of Khashoggi, who vanished after being lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, has hugely embarrassed Washington.

The killing torpedoed a PR campaign led by the crown prince to show that the conservative Islamic state has embarked on a new reformist path.

It also threw into question the White House strategy to make MBS, as the royal is widely known, its main partner in the tinderbox region.

Trump has for weeks resisted accepting mounting evidence of Saudi government involvement in the Khashoggi killing — and accusations that MBS ordered the hit.

However, with The New York Times reporting that the CIA has definitively concluded that Prince Mohammed was involved, the focus turned to whether Trump would punish his Saudi partner or find a way to let it slide.

In his statement, released by the White House press office, Trump took the latter option, saying that the US-Saudi relationship was more important than the possible involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed in the crime.

‘Steadfast partner’

He noted that Saudi King Salman and the crown prince “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr Khashoggi.”

Saudi Arabia, he said, provides crucial help in the US struggle to contain Iranian ambitions, as well as having committed to $450 billion in US weapons contracts and other investments.

In addition, the Saudis have helped in keeping oil prices low, Trump said.

“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.

Trump acknowledged a push in Congress for the United States to sanction MBS and take other action against the Saudi leadership.

“I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America,” he said.

The Washington Post responded that Trump had placed “personal relationships and commercial interests above American interests in his desire to continue to do business as usual.”

“Trump is correct in saying the world is a very dangerous place. His surrender to this state-ordered murder will only make it more so,” the Post’s publisher and CEO Fred Ryan said in a statement.

Trump’s statement caps a steady campaign to delay judgement on the Saudis over the fate of Khashoggi, a US resident who was sometimes critical of MBS and wrote for the Post.

Long after Turkish sources and others had provided strong evidence that Khashoggi was murdered in the Istanbul consulate, the White House insisted that it was too early to tell.

After Saudi Arabia accepted responsibility and said that 21 people were in custody, with death penalties sought against five men, attention turned to whether MBS would be found culpable.

Again, Washington slow-pedaled, but the CIA report forced Trump into making a definitive statement.

 ‘Nothing definitive’

While Trump told journalists that the CIA had found “nothing definitive,” US media reports described the intelligence agency’s analysis as concluding with “high confidence” that the crown prince ordered the murder.

Critics of the no-questions-asked relationship immediately attacked Trump.

“Since Mr Trump excels in dishonesty, it is now up to members of Congress to obtain & declassify the CIA findings on Jamal Khashoggi’s death,” tweeted John Brennan, a former CIA director and fierce Trump critic.

“No one in Saudi Arabia—most especially the Crown Prince—should escape accountability for such a heinous act.”

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said the White House maneuver demonstrated “President Trump’s habit of siding with murderous foreign dictators over American intelligence professionals,” calling the approach a “stain on our democracy.”

There was a chorus of disapproval from senior figures on his own side too, with Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate’s powerful Committee on Foreign Relations accusing the White House of moonlighting “as a public relations firm” for the crown prince.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump, indicating that Washington’s relationship with the Saudis is bigger than the horrific murder.

“It’s a mean, nasty world out there, the Middle East in particular,” he told journalists.

“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. So as the president said today, the United States will continue to have a relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They’re an important partner of ours.”

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters after meeting Pompeo that his country was pushing for “whoever gave the instruction” for Khashoggi’s murder to be brought to justice.

“We sont see this issue as a bilateral issue — it is a criminal and judicial case and it has to be dealt like that,” he added.

“There are still questions that are unanswered and we’re trying to find the answers.”

AFP

Spain Defends Selling Arms To Saudi Despite Khashoggi’s Murder

Leader of the Spanish Socialist Party PSOE Pedro Sanchez gives a speech during a debate on a no-confidence motion at the Lower House of the Spanish Parliament in Madrid on June 01, 2018. 
Emilio Naranjo / POOL / AFP

 

Spain’s Socialist prime minister defended Wednesday arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia despite an outcry over the murder of a Saudi journalist, saying it was in the country’s “interests” to keep selling military hardware to the kingdom.

“If you ask me where I stand today, it is in the defence of the interests of Spain, of jobs in strategic sectors in areas badly affected by the drama that is unemployment,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told parliament.

Spain’s state-owned shipbuilder Navantia in July signed a deal worth 1.8 billion euros ($2.0 billion) to supply oil-rich Saudi Arabia with five navy ships.

The shipbuilder is located in the southern region of Andalusia, a socialist bastion which has one of Spain’s highest unemployment rates and which will hold regional elections in December.

Sanchez said he shared the “dismay and condemnation” of international public opinion regarding the “horrible assassination” of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

But the “seriousness of these horrible events which I unequivocally condemn can not and should not prevent us from acting responsibly,” he added.

Catalan separatist parties and far-left party Podemos, whose support Sanchez’s minority government depends on, have called on the government to suspend Spain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabi in protest against Khashoggi’s murder.

Sanchez’s government came under fire in September after it decided to go ahead with the delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, amid concerns that they could harm civilians in Yemen where the kingdom is engaged in a bloody conflict.

The government had earlier said it would block the export of the weapons but Sanchez justified the about-face at the time on the grounds that it was needed to preserve good ties with the Gulf state, a key commercial partner for Spain.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and prominent critic of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed after entering the consulate in Turkey on October 2.

His murder has revived the debate in countries around the world over their ties to Saudi Arabia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday that Berlin would not export arms to Saudi Arabia for now in the wake of Khashoggi’s violent death.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that it would be “extremely difficult” to cancel a 2014 blockbuster sale of armoured personnel carriers to Saudi Arabia Without “paying exorbitant penalties”.

AFP

Khashoggi’s Murder: Saudi Crown Prince To Make First Speech

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman waving as he arrives for talks at 10 Downing Street, in central London, on March 7, 2018. Photo: Tolga AKMEN / AFP

 

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is scheduled to address an investment forum in Riyadh Wednesday, his first public speech since the murder of critic Jamal Khashoggi plunged the kingdom into crisis. 

Organisers of the glitzy flagship Future Investment Initiative listed Prince Mohammed bin Salman among the “top speakers” for the second day of the three-day conference after he made a brief appearance on Tuesday.

The crown prince is likely to appear on a panel alongside Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Saad Hariri, whose resignation in a televised address from the Saudi capital in mysterious circumstances last year sparked rumours he was being held against his will.

The conference, nicknamed “Davos in the desert”, has been overshadowed by the outcry over the murder of Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, with an array of big names pulling out over the case.

The reform credentials of Prince Mohammed, the king’s powerful son, have been tarnished by the scandal despite repeated denials he had any involvement in the killing of the Washington Post contributor.

Saudi organisers of the conference have sought to portray it as business as usual, announcing 12 “mega deals” worth more than $50 billion in oil, gas, infrastructure and other sectors on the opening day of the forum.

Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih acknowledged, however, that the kingdom was in crisis following the “abhorrent” murder of Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia initially claimed Khashoggi left freely after visiting the consulate but, as international pressure mounted, the kingdom said he died inside the mission when an argument degenerated into a fistfight. It later acknowledged that he had in fact been murdered, as Turkish officials said all along.

The changing narrative has triggered deep scepticism abroad.

The United States said Tuesday it was revoking the visas of Saudis implicated in the murder, as President Donald Trump ridiculed the kingdom’s response as “one of the worst cover-ups” in history.

The move came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a keenly anticipated speech on Tuesday that Khashoggi’s killing inside the consulate had been meticulously planned.

AFP