President Donald Trump said late Wednesday that he is reluctant to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia if the kingdom is found to be responsible for the assumed death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, believing such a move could be detrimental to the U.S. economy.
“We have a country that’s doing probably better economically than it’s ever done before,” Trump said during an interview with Fox News anchor Shannon Bream. “A part of that is what we are doing with our defense systems and everybody is wanting them and, frankly, I think that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country.”
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Trump added that he wants to know what happened, but would not like to commit to a U.S. response until all the facts are known.
Khashoggi has not been seen since last week when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Since then, multiple news organizations have quoted Turkish officials accusing the Saudis of having him killed; Turkey has also released video footage that they claim supports the notion of Khashoggi being killed in the consulate. Saudi officials have denied those claims, but the bipartisan calls from U.S. lawmakers to get to the bottom of what happened have only grown.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Associated Press earlier on Wednesday that he had reviewed intelligence pointing to Saudi Arabia’s role in Khashoggi’s disappearance, saying they “have a lot of explaining to do.”
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Corker and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the committee’s top Democrat, wrote to Trump on Wednesday triggering a federal law that would require the president to consider possible sanctions on any foreign person involved in the columnist’s disappearance. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who usually criticizes U.S. foreign policy as to interventionist, went a step further and said the U.S. should block arms sales to Saudi Arabia if they are found to have had any involvement.
“If they’re responsible or even if there’s any indication that they’re implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them, we’ve got to stop sending them arms,” Paul, a frequent golf partner of Trump’s, told a Kentucky radio station, according to an AP report.
Khashoggi is well-regarded for his reportorial insight into Saudi Arabia’s royal family, but his criticism of some of its members forced him to flee the country last year.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency – the federal agency that overseas arms sales to foreign countries – reported on Wednesday that the U.S. saw a 33 percent increase in total arms sales in fiscal 2018 for a total of $55.6 billion. Trump signed a nearly $110 billion defense agreement with Saudi King Salman in May 2017.
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