President Donald Trump acknowledged Tuesday that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could have known of the murder of a rebel journalist – but said there would be no fallout anyway for Saudi-US relations.
“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 statement.
“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,” he said. “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia.”
The gruesome murder of Khashoggi, who vanished after being lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, has hugely embarrassed Washington.
The killing torpedoed a powerful PR campaign led by the crown prince to show that the conservative Islamic state has embarked on a new reformist path.
It also threw into question the White House strategy to make MBS, as the royal is widely known, its main partner in the tinderbox region.
Trump has for weeks resisted accepting mounting evidence of Saudi government involvement in the Khashoggi killing – and accusations that MBS ordered the hit.
However, with The New York Times reporting that the CIA has definitively concluded that Prince Mohammed was involved, the focus turned to whether Trump would punish his Saudi partner or find a way to let it slide.
In his statement, released by the White House press office, Trump took the latter option, saying that the US-Saudi relationship was more important than the possible involvement in the crime of Prince Mohammed.
He noted that Saudi King Salman and the crown prince “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.”
Also, Saudi Arabia, he said, provides crucial help in the US struggle to contain Iranian ambitions, as well as having committed to $450 billion in US weapons contracts and other investments. In addition, the Saudis have helped in keeping oil prices low, Trump said.
“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,” he said.
Trump acknowledged a strong push in Congress for the United States to sanction MBS and take other action against the Saudi leadership.
“I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America,” he said.