Donald Trump’s 633-word response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi could have dangerous global consequences.
Donald Trump’s pardoning of Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi could spark a ripple effect.
Earlier in the week, the US President released a 633-word statement saying the US would remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia — despite admitting that the Saudi Crown Prince “could very well” have known in advance about the plan to kill The Washington Post columnist.
“Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” Mr Trump said.
“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.”
In a New York Times analysis, reporters Mark Mazzetti and Ben Hubbard said this could serve as a dangerous message to authoritarian leaders about how far they can go without losing US support.
“Mr Trump made clear that he sees alliances as transactional, based on which foreign partners buy the most weapons. American jobs outweigh American values,” they write.
“Tuesday’s message could become something of a blueprint for foreign leaders — a guide to how they might increase their standing in the eyes of the American president as well as how far they can go in crushing domestic critics without raising American ire.”
The Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan, who Khashoggi worked for, said Mr Trump’s comments were a “betrayal”.
“President Trump’s response to the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a betrayal of long-established American values of respect for human rights and the expectation of trust and honesty in our strategic relationships,” Mr Ryan said.
“President Trump is correct in saying the world is a very dangerous place. His surrender to this state-ordered murder will only make it more so.
“An innocent man, brutally slain, deserves better, as does the cause of truth and justice and human rights.”
WHAT EXACTLY DID DONALD TRUMP SAY?
In his latest statement on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Mr Trump said the “world is a very dangerous place”.
But he pinned the focus on Iran, painting the Saudis as the victims in the brutal war that’s broken out in Yemen.
“The country of Iran … is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilise 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,” Mr Trump said.
“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.”
After spruiking the economic impact the US relationship has had on Saudi Arabia (“After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States”), Mr Trump acknowledged — almost halfway through the statement — that Khashoggi’s murder was “terrible”.
“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,” Mr Trump said.
“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.”
But Mr Trump did not hold the Crown Prince accountable for the murder. “King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi,” he said.
“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!”
Mr Trump said we may “never know all of the facts” surrounding the murder, and stressed that Saudi Arabia has been a “great ally” 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,” he said. “It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!”
Noting Saudi Arabia was the largest oil-producing nation in the world, Mr Trump concluded: “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!”
The statement came as it was revealed Khashoggi pleaded with four men to “release my arm” after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul — chilling comments caught on tape in the final moments before he was murdered and dismembered, Turkish media reported.
Khashoggi was confronted by four men when he arrived on October 2 at the consulate’s “A unit,” where the visa department is located.
“Release my arm! What do you think you are doing?” Turkish media quoted Khashoggi telling them, citing a seven-minute recording that captured the encounter, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
The four men, said to be members of a Saudi “hit squad,” then removed the writer to another area of the consulate that contains administrative offices, where sounds of a quarrel, beating and torture are heard on another four-minute recording.
“Traitor! You will be brought to account,” a man identified as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, the leader of the team and an associate of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, tells Khashoggi.