New York: “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” is how US president Donald Trump mounted a spirited defence of Saudi Arabia and its crown prince despite all the evidence that is piling up against the kingdom’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
"The world is a very dangerous place!” declares the first line of a strangely worded White House statement in seven thick paragraphs on the Trump administration response to the Khashoggi murder and whatever the CIA or anybody else may come up with. Soon after Trump's remarks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo too fell in line with the Trump view saying "it's a mean, nasty world out there — the Middle East in particular. There are important American interests. To keep the American people safe. To protect Americans ... It is the president's obligation ... to ensure we adopt policies that further America's national security."
Trump says the CIA never made a determination about who killed Saudi writer and critic Jamal Khashoggi, he says intelligence officials never had anything "definitive." This is in stark contrast to the story Washington Post broke last week headlined 'CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination'. The divergence of the CIA and State Department on Khashoggi is not atypical. These two agencies have long had a complicated relationship. Diplomats and spies work together but are often chasing different ends; diplomats cultivate relationships and spies extract information. In the Trump-Mohammad bin Salman-Jared Kushner triage, extracting information is the last thing this White House wants.
Both in the written statement and while speaking to reporters later in the day, Trump portrayed the gory Khashoggi story as one which should not defile the halo around his ‘America First’ war cry.
The letter begins with Iran - yes Iran - which Trump berates at length before he goes to to heap praise on the Saudis for agreeing to “spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism”: “The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize 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. 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.”
Trump’s communications team has done everything it can to distinguish between Khashoggi the individual and relations between heads of state, saying “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.”
Despite losing the House majority in the midterms, Trump is back at his old game of spinning even the gory Khashoggi killing with an eye on his political base, claiming that business from the Saudis adds “hundreds of thousands of jobs” and portratying himself as a protector of jobs and American prosperty in a “dangerous” world.
“After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!”, Trump said.
All this comes on a day when more chilling tapes emerged of Khashoggi's final moments inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. Khashoggi is heard yelling at his attackers and is called a traitor in recordings from final hours, a Turkish newspaper reported Tuesday. Citing Turkish security sources, Haberturk newspaper reports that Khashoggi was seized moments after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and he is heard yelling “Release my arm! What do you think you are doing?”. The report says Khashoggi and his captors "argued" for seven minutes before he was taken away to another section of the consulate. Recording from the second location indicate arguments, a physical fight, beating and torture, the newspaper reports.
Trump says he has not heard the tapes and does not plan to.
"I feel more afraid today to live in America than I did even a few hours ago", Jason Rezaian, also a Washington Post columnist and who was imprisoned for 544 days in Iran, said in reaction to Trump's stunning defence of the Saudis.
"If you boil the White House statement down to its essence, President Trump has just asserted that if you do enough business with the U.S., you are free to murder journalists. That's an appalling message to send to Saudi Arabia and the world." @Joelcpj #JusticeForJamal pic.twitter.com/PAnXHJJv9A
— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) November 20, 2018
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Updated Date: Nov 21, 2018 04:42:18 IST