Washington: US President Donald Trump has defended his decision not to hold Saudi rulers accountable in the brutal killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying maintaining strategic ties with Riyadh and keeping the global oil prices down were in the best interests of the US and the world, a stand criticised as a "betrayal of American values."
The murder of Khashoggi, a one-time insider-turned critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a resident of the US, in the Saudi consulate in Turkey and dismembering of his body has spurred a wave of international anger against Saudi Arabia and its rulers.
The US had last week imposed sanctions on 17 individuals of Saudi Arabia for serious human rights abuse resulting from their roles in the killing of 59-year-old Khashoggi at the kingdom's Consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.
Saudi Arabia has blamed Khashoggi's death on rogue agents but denied claims that the crown prince had knowledge of the operation.
Trump essentially argued that although the murder of Khashoggi was "terrible" and could not be condoned, it did not merit the disruption of a strategic relationship he has elevated to extraordinary levels.
"We're not going to give up hundreds of millions of dollars in order to let Russia and China have them ... it's a very simple equation for me. I'm about to make America great again," Trump told reporters.
"King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Khashoggi. 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!" Trump had earlier said in a statement that immediately drew sharp criticism from his political opponents and the media.
Reacting to the president's comments, Republican Senator Bob Corker and Democrat Bob Menendez issued a statement on behalf of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The two called on Trump to focus a second investigation specifically on the crown prince so as to "determine whether a foreign person is responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture or other gross violation" of human rights.
The Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a contributor, said President Trump's latest statement on the dissident journalist was a "betrayal of American values."
"President Trump on Tuesday confirmed what his administration has been signalling all along: It will stand behind the Saudi crown prince even if he ordered the brutal murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi," the editorial board of the Post said in a stinging editorial.
"Mr Trump has betrayed American values in service to what already was a bad bet on the 33-year-old prince," it said, while terming his statement as "crude".
Responding to questions from reporters at the White House before leaving for Florida to spend his Thanksgiving holidays, Trump said his decision was all about America first.
"Saudi Arabia, if we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof. I've kept them down. They've helped me keep them down. Right now, we have low oil prices, or relatively I'd like to see it go down even lower," he said.
He denied allegations that this was at the expense of human rights. "At some point, things very positive, frankly, could happen with Iran, but we also need a counterbalance. And Israel needs help also. If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake," Trump warned.
The president refuted The Post's allegations that by taking such a decision, he was putting his personal and commercial interests ahead of national interests.
"Well, I have nothing to do with Saudi — just so you understand, I don't make deals with Saudi Arabia. I don't take money from Saudi Arabia. I have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia. I couldn't care less," he said.
"I will tell you and as most of you know, being president has cost me a fortune and that's okay with me," he said.
"All I do is focus on this country and making great deals for this country. I don't focus on making great deals for myself because I don't care anymore," Trump added.
Saudi Arabia, Trump said, is buying hundreds of billions of dollars worth of things from the US. "If I say we don't want to take your business, if I say we're going to cut it off, they will get the equipment—military equipment and other things—from Russia and China," he said, adding that in such a case the two countries would be "very, very happy" because right now the US is doing "very well" against China.
"We're doing very well against everybody including Russia. I'm going to keep it that way. I'm not going to tell a country that is spending hundreds of billions of dollars and has helped me do one thing very importantly—keep oil prices down so that they're not going to put $100 and $150 dollars a barrel," he said.
Noting that the oil prices right now are in a great shape, Trump insisted that he is not going to destroy the world economy.
"I'm not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia," he added.
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Updated Date: Nov 21, 2018 17:39:15 IST