President Donald Trump speaks to the media before leaving the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, to travel to Florida, where he will spend Thanksgiving at Mar-a-Lago. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Donald Trump speaks to the media before leaving the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, to travel to Florida, where he will spend Thanksgiving at Mar-a-Lago. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Trump defies calls to punish crown prince for writer’s death

The U.S. earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the Oct. 2 killing, but members of Congress have called for harsher actions, including cancelling arms sales.

President Donald Trump has declared he will not further punish Saudi Arabia for the killing of U.S.-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi, making clear in an exclamation-filled statement that the benefits of good relations with the kingdom outweigh the possibility its crown prince ordered the killing.

The president condemned the brutal slaying of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as a “horrible crime … that our country does not condone.” But he rejected calls by many in Congress, including members of his own party, for a tougher response, and he dismissed reports from U.S. intelligence agencies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known about such an audacious and intricate plot.

“It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event,” the president said Tuesday. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

In many ways, the statement captured Trump’s view of the world and foreign policy, grounded in economic necessity. It began with the words “America First!” followed by “The world is a very dangerous place!”

It came after weeks of debate over whether the president would or should come down hard on the Saudis and the crown prince in response to the killing of the Saudi columnist for The Washington Post who had criticized the royal family.

The U.S. earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the Oct. 2 killing, but members of Congress have called for harsher actions, including cancelling arms sales.

Read more: Trump says ‘no reason’ for him to hear Khashoggi death tape

Read more: Trump says report on Khashoggi death expected in a few days

Trump said “foolishly cancelling these contracts” worth billions of dollars would only benefit Russia and China, which would be next in line to supply the weapons. Critics, including high-ranking officials in other countries, denounced Trump’s statement, saying he ignored human rights and granted Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons.

Asked by a reporter if he was saying that human rights are too expensive to fight for, Trump responded, “No, I’m not saying that at all.” But then he switched the subject to the “terrorist nation” of Iran rather than any actions by Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. needs a “counterbalance” to Iran, “and Israel needs help, too,” he said. “If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake.”

The mistake was Trump’s, said Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, contending the administration has “blinders on” in comparing Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“It’s a sign of weakness not to stand up to Saudi Arabia,” Paul said. “Sometimes when you have two evils, maybe you don’t support either side.”

Republican Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who is close to Trump, also disagreed with the president’s statement, saying America must not lose its “moral voice” on the international stage.

“It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Graham said.

Likewise, Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said that to suggest that U.S. silence can be bought with arms sales “undermines respect for the office of the presidency, the credibility of our intelligence community and America’s standing as a champion of human rights.”

Trump’s statement, issued just before he pardoned the Thanksgiving turkey at the White House and left for the long holiday weekend in Florida, underscored his world view of putting U.S. interests — both financial and geopolitical — above all else.

He told reporters on the South Lawn that oil prices would “skyrocket” if the U.S. broke with the Saudis, and he was not going to “destroy” the world’s economy by being “foolish with Saudi Arabia.”

Asked about any personal financial involvement, he said: “Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with me. What does have to do with me is putting America first.”

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, mocked Trump’s announcement, tweeting that Trump “bizarrely devotes the FIRST paragraph of his shameful statement on Saudi atrocities to accuse IRAN of every sort of malfeasance he can think of.”

Zarif went on to joke that “perhaps we’re also responsible for the California fires, because we didn’t help rake the forests— just like the Finns do?” He appeared to be referring to recent remarks in which Trump suggested raking the forest floor prevented fires in Finland and would have helped to prevent California’s devastating wildfires.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, called Khashoggi’s killing “a humanitarian issue” and said it should not be covered up for the sake of maintaining trade ties with Saudi Arabia.

“It concerns a murder,” Cavusoglu said. “It is not possible to say, ‘Our trade will increase. Let’s cover this up. Let’s ignore it.’”

Trump said that King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed both “vigorously deny” any knowledge of the planning or execution of the killing. He also said the CIA has not made a conclusive determination about whether the crown prince ordered it.

A U.S. official familiar with the case told The Associated Press last week that intelligence officials had concluded that the crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto leader, did order the killing. Others familiar with the case, however, have cautioned that while it’s likely the crown prince had a role there continue to be questions about the degree.

“We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Trump said. “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.”

Saudi prosecutors say a 15-man team sent to Istanbul exceeded its authority when the lead negotiator in the team decided to kill Khashoggi for refusing orders to return. The Saudis say the agents dismembered his body, which has not been found.

Democrats on Capitol Hill called on the CIA and other top intelligence agencies to publicly report what it has learned about the killing.

The CIA had no comment on the president’s statement. However, former Director John Brennan, a frequent Trump critic, tweeted: “Since Mr. Trump excels in dishonesty, it is now up to members of Congress to obtain & declassify the CIA findings on Jamal Khashoggi’s death. No one in Saudi Arabia — most especially the Crown Prince —should escape accountability for such a heinous act.”

Trump said he knew some members of Congress would disagree with his decision. He said he would listen to their ideas, but only if they were focused on U.S. national security.

Late last week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that calls for suspending weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, for sanctions on people who block humanitarian access in Yemen or support the Houthi rebels, and mandatory sanctions on those responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

Democrats harshly criticized Trump’s decision Tuesday and called on Congress to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia and end support for Saudi Arabia’s war against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen, which is facing a humanitarian crisis.

“Standing with Saudi Arabia is not ‘America First!’” said Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, where Khashoggi lived. “President Trump has sided with a murderous regime over patriotic American intelligence officials.”

Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said Khashoggi was killed by agents of the Saudi government in a “premeditated murder, plain and simple,” and she said she would introduce legislation requiring intelligence agencies to release an unclassified public assessment.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump’s decision, saying, “We are determined to ensure that we continue to make sure that we take care of the American people in all of the strategic decisions we make about with whom we work with around the world.”

The president opened his eight-paragraph statement chastising Iran for its proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, its activities in Iraq, its backing of the Syrian government of Bashar Assad and its support of militant groups, which Riyadh has pledged billions to fight.

Deb Riechmann, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Seafest is underway with a sunfest theme from June 11 to 13 in Prince Rupert. Alex Hoogendorn vice president of Prince Rupert Special Events is creating sunny times making feature for the decorating contest with his son Caleb Hoogendorn on June 4. (K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Seafest 44 plans a sunfest June 11 to 13 in Prince Rupert

All events in festival are COVID-19 safe, social distancing and health protocols approved by N.H.A.

Relay for Life will be held virtually on June 12. Donations and registered teams are decreased in numbers this year, but there is still time to register. Cancer survivors, Isaac Mastroianni and his dad Mark Mastroianni, wear their Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life survivors shirts. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
A lifeline for many, Relay for Life now needs community support

Prince Rupert is one of just four cities in B.C. with teams registered the June 12 event

Coho is one of many fish species that will benefit from a project to assess fish passage in the Falls River Watershed and offer options for improved connectivity and habitat restoration. The project will be delivered with funding from the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program announced on June 8. (Photo: supplied by FWCP, istock, M.Haring)
More than $2.1 million for Northcoast fish and wildlife projects

Falls River Watershed SE of Prince Rupert to have fish passage and habitat study

Taylor Bachrach, NDP MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley addresses Parliament on June 7, in call for the federal government to stop fighting Indigenous children in court and to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action. (Image: supplied from Facebook)
NDP motion calling for immediate reconciliation action passes

Skeena-Bulkley MP Taylor Bachrach addresses federal Parliament

Salmon Arm ICBC Service centre. Lachlan Labere/ Salmon Arm Observer
Backlog: New drivers travel from as far as Prince Rupert for road test in Salmon Arm

Salmon Arm man unable to get his road test until late November in Kelowna

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Most Read