Trump defends relationship with Saudi Arabia after journalist's murder

President Donald Trump with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House in March 2018 Credit Kevin Dietsch PoolGetty Images President Donald Trump with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House in March 2018. | Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images.

Citing low oil prices, U.S. President Donald Trump has said that he will continue to support Saudi Arabia after the death and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist last month.

"The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone," the president said in a statement Tuesday. "We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body."

However, he stressed the economic impact of maintaining a strong relationship with the Saudi government.

"After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States."

Trump's comments come in response to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Born in Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi had moved to the U.S. last year and was a frequent critic of the Saudi regime. He was killed and his body dismembered at a Saudi consulate in Turkey last month.

The Saudi government has denied involvement in the killing, but the denial has been disputed.

"The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi…according to people familiar with the matter," the Washington Post reported last week.

Trump noted that Saudi Crown Prince has denied his involvement in the assassination, saying, "we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder."

"Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"

"In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Trump continued. He cited their reliability as "a great ally in our very important fight against Iran" as well as their responsiveness "to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels."

"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," Trump said.

On Wednesday, Trump thanked Saudi Arabia for drops in oil prices.

"Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82," he said on Twitter. "Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let's go lower!"

For years, Saudi Arabia has been ranked among the world's worst human rights violators. In its 2017 human rights report on Saudi Arabia, the U.S. State Department pointed to the country's unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary detention, political prisoners, human trafficking, and restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, movement and religion.

Last year, Aid to the Church in Need ranked Saudi Arabia as "extreme" in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has repeatedly named Saudi Arabia as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), a label that identifies foreign governments which engage in or tolerate "systemic, ongoing, and egregious" religious freedom violations.

Saudi Arabia is currently involved in what has become a nearly four-year proxy war in Yemen. The conflict began when the Shiite Muslim Houthi tribe took control of a key territory and chased the president from the capital city. Saudi Arabia and some Arab allies intervened on behalf of the opposing faction, while Iran has backed the Houthi rebels.

At least 6,500 civilians have been killed in the conflict, as have over 10,000 combatants. More than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes. The number of people facing pre-famine conditions could reach 14 million, the U.N. has estimated.

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Mass starvation in Yemen is a possible threat, as a military engagement in the major port city of Hodeidah could block food and other humanitarian aid for millions of people. Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, has said that starvation is a weapon of war and the famine is "wholly man-made."

"Mass starvation is a deadly byproduct of actions taken by warring parties and the Western nations propping them up," Egeland said in an Oct. 15 statement.

The U.S. government is providing some forms of military support to Saudi Arabian forces in the conflict and U.S.-supplied weapons have been traced to incidents that have killed civilians. An Aug. 9 aerial bombing of a school bus killed dozens of children with a bomb manufactured by U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, CNN reported.

Then-President Barack Obama had banned the sale of precision-guided military technology to Saudi Arabia, citing human rights concerns, but the Trump administration overturned the ban in March 2017.

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