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Trump defends Saudi Arabia ties despite Khashoggi murder

US President Donald Trump has strongly defended ties with Saudi Arabia despite international condemnation of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

Why do Trump's Saudi job numbers keep growing?
Why do Trump’s Saudi job numbers keep growing?

The kingdom is a “steadfast partner” that has agreed to invest “a record amount of money” in the US, Mr Trump said in a statement.

The president acknowledged Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “could very well” have known about Khashoggi’s murder.

“In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Mr Khashoggi was murdered on 2 October on a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Saudi Arabia has blamed the killing on rogue agents but denied claims that the crown prince had knowledge of the operation.

US media have reported that the CIA believes Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder .

Mr Trump’s statement said: “[It] could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

Later on Tuesday, Mr Trump said that the CIA had not made a “100%” determination on the killing.

In an interview on Sunday, the president told Fox News that he had refused to listen to a recording of Khashoggi’s murder provided by Turkey , calling it “a suffering tape”.

Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham, a senator from Mr Trump’s Republican Party, has predicted strong bipartisan support in Congress for sanctions against Saudi Arabia “including appropriate members of the royal family”.

What does the statement say?

“The world is a very dangerous place!”, Mr Trump states, before holding up Saudi Arabia as an ally of the US against Iran.

The kingdom spent “billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism” whereas Iran has “killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East”, it says.

The statement also stresses Saudi investment pledges and arms purchases. “If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries,” it adds.

While admitting the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was “terrible”, Mr Trump wrote that “we may never know all of the facts” about his death.

“The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”

Mr Trump later said he would meet Mohammed bin Salman at a G20 meeting in Argentina next week if the crown prince attended.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has backed his president, saying after talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that “it’s a mean, nasty world out there” and that Mr Trump was “obliged to adopt policies that further America’s national security”.

Mr Cavusoglu said that co-operation with Saudi Arabia on the issue was “not where we want it”.

In a statement, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said she was shocked the president was not going to punish Mohammed bin Salman over the “premeditated murder” of Khashoggi.

How will the statement play out internationally?

What the take-away will be in the Middle East and beyond is a serious issue, says BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

US policy in the region is so closely aligned with that of two key individuals – Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel – that it is increasingly hard to see how the US can play a role as an independent arbiter, our correspondent says.

Mr Trump’s narrow, interests-based approach will further dismay Washington’s allies in the West, he argues, reinforcing those in Moscow and Beijing who are already applying a “Russia First” and a “China First” approach in international affairs.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted his disgust at the Trump statement, calling it disgraceful: BBC

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