Donald Trump has suggested “maybe the world” should be held accountable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, as he doubled down on his insistence the CIA had not concluded Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was responsible for the killing.
Speaking to reporters after delivering a Thanksgiving Day message to troops deployed to Afghanistan, the president again denied the country’s pre-eminent intelligence agency believed the powerful Mohammed bin Salman was behind last month’s murder.
“They did not come to a conclusion. They have feelings, certain ways, but I have the report,” the president said. “They have not concluded. Nobody’s concluded. I don’t know if anyone could conclude that the crown prince did it.”
Mr Trump spoke after the Washington Post reported last week the CIA had concluded the crown prince ordered the assassination of journalist the 59-year-old journalist, who went missing after entering a consulate in Turkey to prepare for a trip to Saudi Arabia to get married. Turkish investigators believe the journalist was dismembered and his body parts taken out of the Istanbul facility by a 15-strong hit squad.
Mr Trump said this week the US was standing by Saudi Arabia even though “it could very well be” the crown prince was responsible. He said Washington would remain a steadfast ally and would not impose sanctions, as many Democrats have demanded.
“My policy is very simple: America first, keep America great again and that’s what I’m doing,” Mr Trump told reporters from his estate in Florida.
“It’s a terrible thing. I dislike it more than you do. But the fact is … they create tremendous wealth, really tremendous jobs in their purchases and very importantly, they keep the oil price down.”
Asked who should be held accountable for the killing if not Saudi Arabia, the president replied: “Maybe the world should be held accountable, because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place. You look at what’s happening in China, you look at what’s happening in so many different countries, I could name many countries. You look at what’s happening in terrorism all over the world.
“The other thing about Saudi Arabia, they’re putting up tremendous amounts of money to fight terrorism. Now, they were part of terrorism and nobody is going to try and justify that. They were a big part of it. But they’re spending a lot of money and they’re opening up and they’re doing a lot of things.”
Mr Trump has been widely accused of ignoring a string of human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia in order to protect access to cheap oil, and to maintain a relationship with a country it considers a vital counterweight to Iran.
The Associated Press said that on Capitol Hill, several politicians triggered investigations into Mr Khashoggi’s death and specifically whether the crown prince was responsible. The investigations were requested under provisions of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
The act requires the president to report back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee within 120 days, on whether the crown prince was responsible, the AP said.
Many have said they were not surprised by Mr Trump’s decision.
“A US president continuing to back a regime after evidence emerges of its true brutality is nothing new, even if it is, this time, his own CIA telling him,” Mark Curtis, an historian and the author of Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam, told The Independent.
“Even Saudi involvement in 9/11 has not been enough to halt the Washington-Riyadh alliance. Trump is continuing to act at the behest of US corporations but also from seeing Iran as the main barrier to US domination of the region, hence the need to preserve the US alliance with Riyadh at all costs.”
Mr Trump’s comments came as Saudi’s crown prince arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday at the start of a tour of several Arab countries – his first trip abroad since Mr Khashoggi’s murder.
Reuters said the prince, the country’s de facto ruler, was also expected to participate in a G20 meeting in Buenos Aires at the end of the month which would be attended by leaders from the US and Turkey, as well as other European nations.
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