Trump frets over arms sales as worldwide outrage grows over disappearance of Saudi critic

  • While President Donald Trump has demanded answers from Saudi Arabia over the suspected murder of a US-based Saudi critic in Turkey, he seems unwilling to block arms sales to the country.
  • Saudi Arabia is widely suspected of being behind the disappearance of the critic, Jamal Khashoggi, in its Istanbul consulate on October 2.
  • US senators and global authorities have expressed outrage at Khashoggi’s disappearance, with one saying the US should consider halting arms sales. Trump on Wednesday said he didn’t want to block arms sales, which he’s often touted as a big achievement.
  • Even before the latest tension, Saudi Arabia was accused of using US arms in war crimes in Yemen.

While President Donald Trump has demanded answers from Saudi Arabia over the suspected murder of a US-based Saudi critic in Turkey, he seems unwilling to block arms sales to the country as one US senator has proposed.

Jamal Khashoggi, 59, a prominent journalist and insider turned critic of Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to file paperwork to get married. He never returned to his fiancĂ©e, and the Saudis have not proved he ever left the building alive.

Turkish authorities have alleged that a 15-person hit team flew in to kill and dispose of Khashoggi and that Saudi officials have not cooperated in the investigation.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 22 US senators called for an investigation of the incident that could bring sanctions down on Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said that if the Saudis did have Khashoggi killed, then the Senate could work to halt arms sales to the country.

But while Trump appeared to agree in principal that the case bore investigating, he told Fox News he opposed curtailing arms sales, which he’s held up as a grand achievement of his improving ties with the Saudi monarchy.

Trump has embraced Saudi Arabia’s new leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and on a trip to the country early in his administration he signed a deal for $US110 billion in planned arms sales to the kingdom.

“I think that would be hurting us,” Trump told “Fox News @ Night” on Wednesday. “We have jobs, we have a lot of things happening in this country. We have a country that’s doing probably better economically than it’s ever done before.”

He continued: “Part of that is what we’re doing with our defence systems, and everybody’s wanting them. And frankly I think that that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country. I mean, you’re affecting us and, you know, they’re always quick to jump that way.”

Later, speaking to reporters at the Oval Office, Trump agreed that Saudi Arabia should pay a price if they did kill Khashoggi, but noted that he “is not a US citizen.”

“We don’t like it even a little bit. But as to whether or not we should stop $US110 billion from being spent in this country knowing they have four or five alternatives, two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me,” Trump continued.

Saudi Arabia has been a dark cloud for a long time

While Prince Mohammed has moved to improve women’s rights and loosen the grip of religious enforcement over the general population, he’s done so with a somewhat iron fist. Saudi Arabia still beheads and crucifies prisoners, and under Prince Mohammed it has responded harshly to even light criticism of its jailing of dissidents.

And in fact, some American senators and activists have long called for the US to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia as the kingdom stands accused of war crimes against civilians in Yemen. Recently, the Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen acknowledged carrying out what it called an “unjustified”airstrike that killed 51 civilians – including 40 children – with US munitions and support.

Additionally, Saudi blockades of Yemeni ports have led to one of the most severe cholera outbreaks in modern times.

Through the three-year civil war in Yemen, the US has stood by its Saudi ally, and Trump on Wednesday seemed to indicate that Khashoggi’s case wouldn’t change that.

Saudi Arabia heavily relies on US military technology to defend against its chief regional rival, Iran, and its related proxies. The US has long argued that if Saudi Arabia stops buying US arms, it would simply look to Russia or China to fill the need.

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