WASHINGTON DC, USA (UPDATED) – US President Donald Trump said Friday, October 19, he found Saudi Arabia’s explanation about the death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi credible and termed it an “important first step.” (READ: Jamal Khashoggi: From Saudi royal insider to open critic)
And he said that if the US did take action over Khashoggi’s death – which Saudi Arabia said came as a result of a fight at its consulate in Istanbul, while Turkish officials have pointed to a state-sanctioned hit – he does not want it to impact arms sales to the kingdom.
“I do, I do,” Trump said when asked if he found the Saudis’ explanation credible, adding: “It’s early, we haven’t finished our review or investigation, but… I think it’s a very important first step.”
“I would prefer, if there is going to be some form of sanction or what we may determine to do, if anything… that we don’t use as retribution canceling $110 billion worth of work, which means 600,000 jobs,” he said during a visit to Arizona, referring to a major arms deal with the kingdom.
Earlier, in Washington’s first response to Saudi Arabia’s confirmation that the US-based writer was dead, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said merely that the US “acknowledges the announcement.”
“We will continue to closely follow the international investigations into this tragic incident and advocate for justice that is timely, transparent and in accordance with all due process,” she said.
“We are saddened to hear confirmation of Mr Khashoggi’s death, and we offer our deepest condolences to his family, fiancee, and friends.” (READ: Saudi admits Khashoggi killed in Istanbul consulate)
President Donald Trump has sent mixed messages about Khashoggi for days, vowing a severe response but also saying that the United States wants to preserve its close relationship with the conservative kingdom.
Members of the US Congress were far harsher about the announcement on Saudi state media, which said that Khashoggi died after his discussions at the consulate in Istanbul devolved into a fistfight.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who has nonetheless been outspoken about Khashoggi’s death, doubted the credibility of the Saudi authorities, which insisted for weeks that he left the consulate.
“To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr Khashoggi is an understatement,” the Republican senator tweeted.
To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement. https://t.co/am4fraUL6H— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 19, 2018
First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 19, 2018
It’s hard to find this latest “explanation” as credible.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 19, 2018
Targeting Saudi officials
Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the United States should pursue sanctions against Saudis involved in Khashoggi’s death under a US law named after Sergei Magnitsky, the anti-corruption Russian accountant who died in custody.
“The Global Magnitsky Act doesn’t have exceptions for accidents. Even if Khashoggi died because of an altercation, that’s no excuse for his murder,” Menendez tweeted.
“This is far from the end and we need to keep up the international pressure.”
This is far from the end and we need to keep up the international pressure. Congress did its part when we invoked Global Magnitsky Act for a presidential determination. Now President Trump must follow the law.— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) October 19, 2018
Khashoggi, who lived in suburban Washington, was a former insider who turned into a critic of the kingdom’s direction under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Khashoggi, who contributed opinion pieces to The Washington Post, visited the consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to sort out marriage paperwork, but his fiancee saw nothing more of him after he entered.
Representative Mike Coffman, one of a number of lawmakers from Trump’s Republican Party who is facing a tough race in November 6 elections, said the United States “must stand up for our values and demand our ‘allies’ respect human rights.”
The Colorado lawmaker, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, urged Trump to immediately recall the acting US ambassador from Saudi Arabia. Trump has yet to nominate an envoy to the kingdom.
Trump sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier in the week to Riyadh, where the top US diplomat praised the Saudis for conducting a probe and called for the two nations to maintain a close alliance for the sake of business deals and their shared opposition to Iran. – Rappler.com