Sat | Oct 20, 2018

Trump defends Saudi arms sales amid fury over missing writer

Published:Friday | October 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM
President Donald Trump talks with reporters during a signing ceremony for the Save Our Seas Act of 2018 in the Oval Office of the White House yesterday in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP):

President Donald Trump defended continuing huge sales of United States weapons to Saudi Arabia yesterday, despite rising pressure from lawmakers to punish the kingdom over the disappearance of a Saudi journalist who lived in the United States and is now feared dead.

As senators pushed for sanctions under a human rights law and also questioned American support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, Trump appeared reluctant to rock the boat in a relationship that has been key to his strategy in the Middle East. He said withholding sales would hurt the US economy.

"I don't like stopping massive amounts of money that's been pouring into our country. They are spending 110 billion on military equipment," Trump said, referring to proposed sales announced in May 2017 when he went to Saudi Arabia in the first overseas trip of his presidency. He warned that the Saudis could instead buy from Russia or China.

Trump maintained that the US is being "very tough" as it looks into the case of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi leadership and a contributor to The Washington Post who has been missing since October 2. He had entered a Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul to get marriage paperwork as his fiancÈe waited outside, and hasn't been seen since.

Turkish officials say they fear Saudi Arabia killed and dismembered Khashoggi but have offered no evidence beyond video footage of the journalist entering the consulate and the arrival in the country of what they describe as a 15-member Saudi team that allegedly targeted him. Saudi Arabia has denied the allegation as "baseless".

In Istanbul, Turkish media said that Saudi royal guards, intelligence officers, soldiers and an autopsy expert had been part of the team flown in and targeting Khashoggi. Those reported details, along with comments from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appeared aimed at gradually pressuring Saudi Arabia to reveal what happened, while also balancing a need to maintain Saudi investments in Turkey and relations on other issues.

Trump, questioned by reporters at the White House, said, "If it turns out to be as bad as it might be, there are certainly other ways of handling this situation" besides cancelling arms sales. He did not elaborate.