Mr Trump praised the Saudi crown prince as “a friend of mine” who was doing “a spectacular job” as they met on the side-lines of the G20 summit in Japan, but ignored reporters’ questions about his alleged role in the 2018 killing.
The US president described the murder as “horrible”, but insisted that Saudi Arabia had been “a terrific ally” helping create jobs in the US during Saturday’s press conference.
He also suggested he was satisfied with steps the country was taking to prosecute some of those involved, while claiming that “nobody so far has pointed directly a finger at the future king of Saudi Arabia.”
US intelligence officials have concluded that the crown prince – known as MBS – must have at least known of the plot. A UN has called for an investigation into his alleged involvement in the killing at the Saudi consulate in Turkey last year.
As the two sat down over breakfast on Saturday, Trump praised the prince, de facto ruler of the kingdom, for taking steps to open up the kingdom and extend freedoms to Saudi women.
Mr Trump – who last week said it was smart to “take the money” when it came to Saudi Arabia – said a pledge to spend billions of dollars on US military equipment “means something to me”.
A White House statement said Mr Trump and MBS discussed trade, security issues “and the importance of human rights issues”.
Many leaders appeared to go out of their way to make sure MBS felt comfortable at the G20 summit. He beamed as he stood front and centre, sandwiched between Mr Trump and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, for a group photo.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered a critical voice, however. He said that the prince must uncover the killers of Mr Khashoggi, adding that some aspects of the murder were still being hidden.
Mr Erdogan said a 15-person team that arrived in Istanbul before the killing were responsible and he said there was “no point in looking for perpetrators elsewhere.” He also said the killers should be prosecuted in Turkey.
Following a months-long inquiry, Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, recently said she had concluded that Mr Khashoggi was a victim of a “deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible”.
Saudi Arabia denies the 33-year-old crown prince had any knowledge of the killing.
The kingdom has put on trial 11 suspects, some of whom worked directly for the prince. But his closest former adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, sanctioned by the US after the killing, is not among those on trial.
Additional reporting by agencies
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