US President Donald Trump has reiterated his support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, despite CIA assessment that the Saudi royal ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Trump refused to comment on whether the crown prince was complicit in the murder, despite pleas from Senators to condemn the gruesome murder of the Washington Post columnist more than two months ago.
“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office.
Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by MBS, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”
Trump said that the “crown prince vehemently denies” involvement in a killing that has sparked outrage around the world.
The US president has come under fierce criticism from fellow Republicans in the Senate over the issue, particularly after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed them. Last month, the CIA assessed that MBS ordered the killing, which Trump called “very premature”.
“You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organised by people under the command of MBS,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said last week.
A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a resolution last week saying MBS was complicit in the murder.
Trump also said he hoped US senators would not propose stopping arms sales to the Saudis, deals he has doggedly fought to save ever since the gruesome details of Khashoggi’s murder were leaked by Turkey.
“And I really hope that people aren’t going to suggest that we should not take hundreds of billions of dollars that they’re going to syphon off to Russia and to China,” Trump said.
Trump and his cabinet members have dismissed reports of a CIA assessment that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing.
“We have no smoking gun the crown prince was involved, not the intelligence community or anyone else. There is no smoking gun,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week.
The US president himself said last month that the truth may never come out regarding the Khashoggi murder.
“It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” Trump said in a much-criticised statement.
This week, the US Senate will consider a joint resolution condemning the crown prince for the killing, something that the president would have to sign or veto if passed by Congress. Trump has said he would meet senators.
The US president said he is more open to ending US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, something several US politicians have pushed for in recent weeks.
“Well, I’m much more open to Yemen because frankly, I hate to see what’s going on in Yemen,” Trump said.
“But it takes two to tango. I’d want to see Iran pull out of Yemen too. Because – and I think they will.”