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In good times and bad: Trump stands by Saudi crown prince despite mounting pressure

Trump has downplayed concerns surrounding the involvement of MbS in the Khashoggi murder [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 December, 2018

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Trump downplayed concerns surrounding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
US President Donald Trump said he would continue to stand by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince despite increasing pressure from US authorities, including the CIA and a number of senators.

Trump downplayed concerns surrounding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump said in an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office.

Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by the prince, more commonly known as MbS, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”

Trump denied reports that some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent MbS from becoming king, stating “I just haven’t heard that.”

“Honestly, I can’t comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I’ve heard that he’s very strongly in power,” Trump said.

The remarks came as pressure continues to mount on MbS, who is thought to have orchestrated the killing of Khashoggi, prompting global outrage and calls for action.

This week, the US Senate will be asked to vote on a resolution condemning MbS over the murder of the journalist, Republican Senator Bob Corker said on Tuesday.

Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he expects the measure to pass the Senate, noting that its co-sponsors include Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

If the resolution passes the House of Representatives, it will go to President Donald Trump to sign or veto. 

"Hopefully, we'll have a very, very strong vote on a resolution condemning the crown prince," Corker said. 

Meanwhile, CIA Director Gina Haspel will again brief House leaders on Wednesday about what US intelligence knows about the murder, three people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The Saudi government, who initially claimed no knowledge of Khashoggi's fate, eventually conceded that the writer was killed at the embassy in what it has described as a "rogue operation".

US and Turkish intelligence services, however, have reportedly concluded that the assassination order likely came directly from Prince Mohammed.

The incident has driven a wedge between key Republican lawmakers and the president, who has insisted that Washington must temper its response to the murder due to US reliance on Saudi oil.

"It's the most brilliant briefing I've ever received in my time in Congress," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said earlier this month of a briefing by the US intelligence community on the killing of Khashoggi

"You had two analysts that walk us through the crown prince's focus on Mr. Khashoggi for about two years. This operation was very sophisticated."

"The person in charge of executing the operation is MbS' right-hand man. There is no doubt by any senator who received this briefing that MbS was complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi," he added, referring to the 33-year-old crown prince.

Graham, along with other Republican and Democrat Senators last week introduced a resolution condemning Khashoggi's murder. Corker said the new resolution would be similar, adding that he "has a high level of confidence" that the Saudi crown prince was complicit in the journalist's murder. 

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