Trump not taking punitive measures against Saudis over Khashoggi

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that the United States intends to remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia even though “it could very well be” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had knowledge of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“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,” Trump said in a statement issued by the White House. 

Defying pressure from US lawmakers to impose tougher sanctions on Saudi Arabia, the president indicated he had no intention of cancelling military contracts with the kingdom. 

“If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries,” the president said.

The president’s comments come just days after US media reported that the CIA concluded Prince Mohammed, also known as MBS, ordered Khashoggi’s murder. 

Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 when he went there to pick up documents he needed for his planned marriage. 

A critic of the Saudi government, Khashoggi had resisted pressure from Riyadh for him to return home.

Saudi Arabia initially rejected its nationals were behind the killing, but as Turkish authorities continued to leak evidence of high-level involvement, Riyadh eventually admitted its agents carried out the killing with a series of contradictory explanations.

Saudi Arabia’s deputy public prosecutor has said he was seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged in Khashoggi’s killing. Al-Shaalan told reporters the Saudi crown prince knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and removed from the consulate.

‘Enrage Republicans, Democrats, US intelligence’

Last week’s CIA intelligence reports re-energised efforts by members of Congress to hold Prince Mohammed responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. 

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of US senators introduced legislation seeking to punish Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s killing and for its role in the devastating war in Yemen. 

The move came not longer after the US imposed economic sanctions on 17 Saudis allegedly involved in the journalist’s murder. Many senators expressed disappointment that those sanctions did not include the crown prince himself, and called on the US to take tougher action. 

In Tuesday’s statement, Trump said he was aware that some members of Congress “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,” he said. 

Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from outside the White House, said Trump comments are going to enrage both Democrats and Republicans, as well as members of the intelligence community. 

“This is not going to play well for the president,” Halkett said. 

She added that the president will likely be pressured to explain how he reached the conclusion that the facts may never been known, considering his was briefed by the CIA director on the agency’s findings. 

Randa Slim, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, said she believes Congress may try to take action on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and on its role in Yemen. 

“I think it will be tougher and tougher going forward for the administration to be able to spend and rationalise a future cooperation on a number of spheres between the United States and Saudi Arabia,” Slim said. 

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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