US President Donald Trump has reiterated that he stands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite a CIA assessment that he personally ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and pressure from fellow Republicans in Congress to rebuke the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump said in an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office.
The US president has declined to say whether bin Salman was complicit in the brutal murder of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, more than two months ago. He has instead emphasized the importance of America’s ties to the oil-rich kingdom.
Asked by Reuters whether supporting Saudi Arabia meant standing by the ambitious prince, Trump said, “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”
Trump has come under intense pressure from Senate Republicans to condemn the crown prince, known as MbS, but the president has so far looked the other way on the murder.
“You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MbS,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said last week.
Trump again said on Tuesday that bin Salman, with whom he has cultivated a deep personal relationship, “vehemently denies” any involvement in the killing.
Senate to formally rebuke MbS
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker plans to offer a measure this week to condemn bin Salman, the first formal response to the Khashoggi killing and a rebuke to President Trump.
The move is one of three legislative efforts targeting the prince and the Trump administration’s policy towards the Riyadh regime.
Another measure, a resolution to stop US support for the kingdom’s war in Yemen, will go to the Senate floor for a vote on Wednesday.
The US government says it wants to continue support for the Saudi war on Yemen despite mounting criticism over the humanitarian crisis in the impoverished country.
Corker, a Tennessee Republican who opposes the Yemen resolution, is instead pushing to directly blame the crown prince for Khashoggi’s death. The senator told CNN that he was garnering support from top senators in both parties and has enlisted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a co-sponsor of the resolution.
The resolution, which Corker is confident will be adopted this week, is stronger than a symbolic non-binding measure. If approved by both chambers of Congress, the measure goes to Trump’s desk for his signature, placing the president in a difficult position.
Time magazine names slain Saudi dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, as its “Person of the Year” for 2018.
Trump said he hoped senators would not propose blocking US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, something he has vigorously defended in the aftermath of the Khashoggi affair.
“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 siphon off to Russia and to China,” he said.
However, Trump said he was “much more open” to supporting the Yemen resolution.