MbS may had knowledge of Khashoggi murder: Trump
November 20 2018 11:59 PM
US President Donald Trump

Agencies Washington

* US president vows unstinting support to Saudi Arabia
*Crime against Khashoggi a terrible one, says White House but prefers Saudi position over CIA findings

US President Donald Trump has expressed his unstinting support for Saudi Arabia and questioned whether the crown prince Mohamed bin Salman (MbS) knew about the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

In an extraordinary statement issued on Tuesday - which begins with the words " The world is a very dangerous place! " - Trump quotes

Saudi officials as describing Khashoggi an "enemy of the state". The 649-word statement appears to be a presidential act of defiance

against the CIA, which has reportedly concluded that the Saudi prince ordered the killing , and the Senate, which is considering bipartisan legislation that would suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia among other punitive measures.

Trump wrote: "Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event - maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"

"That being said, 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."

As he has in the past with Vladimir Putin, Trump put official denials of wrongdoing from Riyadh on a par with US intelligence assessments.

He said: "King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr Khashoggi."

Trump's statement makes a series of false or unsubstantiated claims, suggesting that Riyadh is buying $110bn in US weapons. The actual total of offers since Trump took office is less than $15bn, and the value of actual signed contracts is significantly lower than that, a Guardian report said.

He said: "If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries - and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!"

Trump said in his statement: "The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone."

The president said that "representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an 'enemy of the state' and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood."

Trump added: "My decision is in no way based on that." But he did not explain why he mentioned the smear against Khashoggi at all.

Defending Trump's stance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news conference that the United States was obligated to adopt policies that furthered US national security interests.

Nicholas Burns, the under-secretary of state for political affairs in the George W Bush administration, said: "This Trump statement on the Khashoggi murder is beyond embarrassing. It is shameful. He cites uncritically the MBS smear that Khashoggi was a traitor. He argues the US can't afford to alienate Riyadh due to oil and Iran. He is silent on our most important interest - justice."

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it was "shameful" that Trump had pledged support for Saudi Arabia despite the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul.

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