Trump announces Jamal Khashoggi investigation but says he won't halt Saudi arms sales
Saudi Arabia Trump announces Jamal Khashoggi investigation but says he won't halt Saudi arms sales
Trumpâs desire to protect weapons sales and familyâs relationship with Saudi monarchy could prompt clash with Republicans
Donald Trump has said US investigators are looking into how Jamal Khashoggi vanished at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but made clear that whatever the ou tcome, the US would not forgo lucrative arms deals with Riyadh.
The presidentâs announcement raised concerns of a cover-up of evidence implicating Saudi Arabiaâs powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in plans to silence the dissident journalist. Those fears were also heightened by an announcement that the Turkish and Saudi governments would conduct a joint investigation into the case.
The Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV network described the 15 suspects as âtouristsâ who had traveled to Istanbul by commercial plane.Yemen: End airstrikes and give child victims justice, says UN body Read more
Senior Republicans in Congress, briefed on US intelligence, have meanwhile signaled they were prepared to force the US to take punitive action if Khashoggi was found to have been murdered by the Saudi regime.
âWeâre being very tough. And we have investigators over there and weâre working with Turkey, and frankly weâre working with Saudi Arabia. We want to find out what happened,â Trump told Fox News on Thursday morning.
US officials could not confirm that US investigators were in Turkey, which has hitherto resisted US help. The state department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said: âThe US government has offered its support to the Turkish government to provide law enforcement assistance to the Turkish government.â
Nauert said she could not comment on whether there were US investigators âon the groundâ. The state department had referred earlier questions about the case to the FBI.
Asked later on Thursday whether the US would cut arms sales if the Saudi government was found to be responsible for Khashoggiâs disappearance, the president demurred, saying the US could lose its share of the huge Saudi arms market to Russia or China.
In the Oval Office Trump pointed out that the disappearance took place in Turkey and that Khashoggi was not a US citizen. On being told that the journalis t was a US permanent resident, Trump said: âWe donât like it even a little bit. But whether or not we should stop $110bn [Â£83bn] from being spent in this country â" knowing they have â¦ two very good alternatives. That would not be acceptable to me.â
He continued: âI donât like stopping massive amounts of money thatâs being poured into our country â" they are spending $110bn on military equipment and on things that create jobs for this country.â
The presidentâs desire to protect weapons sales and his familyâs close relationship with the Saudi monarchy could lead to a clash with congressional Republicans, some of whom are already uneasy about the high civilian death toll from the Saudi aerial bombardment of Yemen, using US-made bombs.
The Republican chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, Bob Corker, one of a handful of senators briefed on US intelligence on the case, said he believed Khashoggi was murdered and that the âintel poi nts directlyâ at the Saudi government. âI think they did it and unfortunately I think he is deceased. But they certainly could produce him and change the narrative,â Corker told CNN.
The senator told MSNBC he had seen intelligence in a secure room at the Senate and concluded: âIt does appear that heâs been murdered, and I think over the next several days, things are going to become much clearer.âJamal Khashoggiâs disappearance fits in to a growing trend we must fight | Simon Tisdall Read more
Corker and 21 other senators sent a formal letter to the president triggering a mandatory US investigation into Khashoggiâs fate. Under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, the administration would have to report on the conclusions of the investigation and a decision on sanctions against the perpetrators.
The bipartisan support for strong action is putting pressure on the Trump administration, which is seeking to protect its close relationship with the Saudi monarchy.
On Thursday, a Turkish presidential aide, Ä°brahim KalÄ±n, said there would be a joint Turkish-Saudi investigation into the Khashoggi case.
Turkish officials have released a relentless drip-feed of information about an alleged crime that has shattered diplomatic norms and rocked Ankara and Riyadh. A report in the Washington Post, citing US intelligence sources, said Bin Salman had earlier authorised an operation to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip ErdoÄan, has challenged Saudi Arabia to provide CCTV images to back up its claims that Khashoggi had left the consulate safely, indicating he did not find the current Saudi explanations sufficient.
Britainâs foreign secretary said Saudi Arabia faced âserious co nsequencesâ if the suspicions of Turkish officials that Khashoggi was murdered turned out to be true.
âIf these allegations are true, there will be serious consequences because our friendships and our partnerships are based on shared values,â Jeremy Hunt told Agence France-Presse.
There are signs that Khashoggiâs disappearance could have a lasting impact on global perceptions of the new Saudi leadership.
Turkey remains adamant that Khashoggi was killed soon after he entered the consulate last Tuesday by a hit squad of 15 assassins who had flown in from Riyadh that day. Accounts of his apparent death have been widely circulated by officials, who have released the names of the Saudi citizens who arrived on two private jets; all were connected to state security agencies.
Turkish officials told the Middle East Eye website that Khashoggi was ushered to the consul generalâs office when he entered the consulate, then quickly seized by two men. âWe k now when Jamal was killed, in which room he was killed and where the body was taken to be dismembered,â the official said. âIf the forensic team are allowed in, they know exactly where to go.â
Riyadh had previously pledged to allow Turkish officials into the consulate, which is considered sovereign Saudi territory under international convention. However, access was rescinded after the names of the alleged assassins were revealed. Among the group, according to a passenger manifest supplied by Turkish authorities, was the head of forensics for the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency.
While investigators believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, suspicion about where his body may have been disposed of continues to focus on the Saudi consul generalâs home, about 500 metres away. The building has an underground garage, and cars that were seen leaving the nearby building are believed to have spent several hours in the garage before leaving for AtatÃ¼rk air port in Istanbul.
Officials also told Reuters they were examining data from an Apple Watch that Khashoggi was wearing when he entered the building. Central to the investigation is whether data from the smartwatch could have been transmitted to a cloud, or his personal phone, which was with his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside.Jamal Khashoggi case: sponsors urged to pull out of key Saudi event Read more
Saudi officials had refused to engage with their Turkish counterparts until Tuesday, a source told the Guardian. Riyadh had used Washington as a conduit. âThey have been behaving very strangely,â said an official. âItâs like they donât care about the consequences. Is this incompetence, or arrogance? We really donât know.â
On his first international trip as president, Trump visited Saudi Arabia and announced $110bn in proposed arms sales.
The US treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is due to represent the administr ation at a trade and investment conference in Saudi Arabia next week, known as âDavos in the Desertâ. His attendance would be a powerful gesture of support for Riyadh in the face of allegations of the premeditated murder of a US resident and journalist.
The US has no ambassador in either Turkey or Saudi Arabia.Topics
- Saudi Arabia
- Journalist safety
- Press freedom
- Trump administration
- Middle East and North Africa
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