HEADLINES:

Trump wary of halting Saudi weapons sales over missing journalist

FILE PHOTO: Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London, Britain, September 29, 2018. Picture taken September 29, 2018. Middle East Monitor/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
2018-10-12

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SULAIMANI — US President Donald Trump said on Thursday (October 11) that he saw no reason to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, possibly setting up a clash with the US Congress.

Speaking to reporters, Trump said he saw no reason to block Saudi purchases of US arms or its investments in the United States despite the journalist’s case, saying the Gulf nation would just move its money into Russia and China, according to Reuters.

“They’re spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs ... for this country. I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States, because you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else,” he said.

His comments prompted pushback from members of the US Senate, including from some of his fellow Republicans, many of whom signed a letter on Wednesday forcing his administration to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance and paving the way to possible sanctions on Saudi officials.

“If it’s found that they murdered a journalist, that will hugely change our relationship,” Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters. “There will have to be significant sanctions placed at the highest levels.”

The Khashoggi incident might make it very hard for the Trump administration to win congressional approval for arms sales to the Saudis. Many lawmakers, including some Republicans, have already questioned US support for Saudi’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war, which has prompted a humanitarian crisis.

Under US law, major foreign sales of military equipment can be blocked by Congress. There is also an informal process in which key lawmakers can put “holds” on arm sales.

Trump, who sealed a $110 billion deal for US companies to sell arms to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip as president in May 2017, said Washington was looking into the disappearance.

“We’re looking at it very strongly,” he said.

Separately, the US State Department spokeswoman said the Saudi ambassador to Washington was heading back to the kingdom and the United States had told him, “We expect information upon his return.”

 

US INVESTIGATORS IN TURKEY?

Global pressure mounted on Saudi Arabia. British billionaire Richard Branson said his Virgin Group would suspend its discussions with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund over a planned $1 billion investment in the group’s space ventures, while a number of media companies pulled out a planned Saudi investment conference.

The New York Times said it would no longer be a sponsor of the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh. Economist Editor-In-Chief Zanny Minton Beddoes and CNBC anchor and New York Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin both decided they would no longer attend.

Economist Editor-In-Chief Zanny Minton Beddoes will not participate in the conference, spokeswoman Lauren Hackett said in an email.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, a CNBC anchor and New York Times business journalist, tweeted that he was not attending the conference, saying he was “terribly distressed by the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and reports of his murder.”

Pressure has mounted on Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi policies, went missing. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

The New York Times has also decided to pull out of the event as a media sponsor, spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said.

The Financial Times said in a statement that it was reviewing its involvement as a media partner.

Uber Technologies Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement he won’t attend the FII conference in Riyadh unless substantially different set of facts emerge.

Viacom Inc CEO Bob Bakish, who was slated to speak at the conference, has decided to not attend the event, company spokesman Justin Dini said.

Other media companies slated to appear at the conference include CNN and Bloomberg, according to the event’s website.

US technology investor Steve Case said he was putting his plans to speak at the conference and attend a separate meeting on a Saudi tourism project on hold “pending further information” on Khashoggi.

In an interview with Fox News, Trump said the United States was working with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, adding, “We have investigators over there.”

However, three US law enforcement sources said that because Khashoggi is not an American citizen and disappeared outside the country, the FBI has no automatic jurisdiction to get involved in the case and could only become involved if requested by a foreign government such as Turkey.

Senior US officials, including Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, have spoken with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about the disappearance.

Trump made Saudi Arabia his first foreign stop as president but in recent weeks has appeared to sour a bit on Riyadh, complaining about the cost of American support for the Saudi military and about oil price increases.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said his country was worried about Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“We are investigating all aspects of the event. It is not possible for us to remain silent regarding such an occurrence, because it is not a common occurrence,” he said in comments quoted by Hurriyet newspaper on Thursday.

He also questioned Saudi assertions that the consulate does not have footage of Khashoggi leaving because the mission’s security cameras only provide live footage and do not record images.

“Is it possible for there to be no camera systems at the Saudi Arabia consulate, where the event took place?,” he said.

(NRT Digital Media/Reuters)