President Donald Trump vowed on Tuesday to remain a ‘steadfast partner’ of Saudi Arabia despite saying that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have known about the plan to murder dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi last month.
“This is an unacceptable and horrible crime,” President Trump said in the statement, but added, “our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!”
Later in the day at a news conference, Trump said he was “not going to destroy the economy of our country” over Khashoggi’s death by giving up arms deals to Saudi Arabia.
But although President Trump and his administration effectively consider the matter closed and will not further punish Saudi Arabia, Trump’s statement set the stage for further sanctions and other punitive measures to move forward in Congress, where bipartisan support exists for measures to curb the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Murphy (D-Conn) many others voiced strong disappointment with the President’s statement and vowed to take up the issue on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Corker tweeted that he, alongside Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), sent a letter to Trump specifically asking on Tuesday whether the administration believed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the murder of Khashoggi, as the CIA reportedly has concluded. President Trump is required by law to respond. Under the Magnitsky Act, Trump can be required to make a determination about human rights violations by global leaders.
Graham wrote in a series of tweets Tuesday, “It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal #Khashoggi.”