President Donald Trump released a statement on Tuesday afternoon denouncing the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as a “terrible” crime and an action the United States “does not condone,” but he also indicated he would take no further action against the Saudi government.
President Trump’s lengthy statement began with a summary of American interests in the Middle East, stressing the importance of Saudi Arabia as an opponent of Iranian aggression and a partner against “Radical Islamic Terrorism.” He rejected the argument that Saudi Arabia is responsible for the bloody civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen:
The world is a very dangerous place!
The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.
Trump also noted America’s strategic and financial relationship with the Saudis and argued that punishing the monarchy with a heavy hand would simply drive it into the waiting arms of America’s great geopolitical adversaries:
After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. 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!
The president acknowledged the Saudi government presented a case against Khashoggi but said his murder was still an “unacceptable and horrible crime.”
He portrayed the claims of innocence by King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the practical ruler of the country, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as somewhat dubious, but explained his administration has little choice but to accept them, given the impracticality of taking harsh punitive action beyond the Treasury Department sanctions announced last week:
The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.
Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. 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. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. 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. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!
Trump concluded by acknowledging many congressional representatives will disagree with his decision, but he said it was the only course consistent with his “America First” philosophy of international relations:
I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!
Some of the senators and representatives unlikely to be satisfied with President Trump’s statement are prominent Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who described Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed as “irrational” and “unhinged” just a few days ago and declared, “I have no intention of ever working with him again.”
Another is Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who pronounced on Sunday “overwhelming” evidence of the crown prince’s involvement in the Khashoggi murder and said, “I don’t think we can sweep this under the rug.”
Congressional leaders skeptical of Riyadh’s story about Khashoggi’s death have suggested punitive measures ranging from sanctions against more high-level officials and royals to suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the very courses of action President Trump rejected in his statement.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that President Trump “dictated the sentiment in the statement” because he “wanted to put a comment in a single place that White House aides could refer to when journalists asked about Mr. Khashoggi’s death.”
“But the sentiment is one Mr. Trump has repeatedly uttered to aides: The United States has a long history of overlooking Saudi misdeeds out of foreign policy concerns, but he felt he was uniquely being picked on publicly. The death was brutal, but it was just one person. And the press will never be satisfied with anything he says about it,” the Times added.