US President Donald Trump pushed back Tuesday at global condemnation of Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying the kingdom deserved to be presumed innocent.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Trump drew a parallel with the accusations of sexual assault that nearly brought down his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” he said. “I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.” “I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump said.
An insider turned critic of Saudi Arabia’s conservative monarchy, Khashoggi was last seen on October 2 when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to sort out marriage paperwork.
His disappearance has strained relations with Washington amid strong pressure in Congress and the US media to prevent the issue from being swept under the carpet.
Trump sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh to talk directly with Saudi Arabia’s royals, and himself spoke earlier Tuesday with powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who assured him a “full” probe was underway.
Saudi Arabia is one of the closest US partners in a bid to undermine Iran and also a massive client of the US weapons industry.
At the prompting of Trump’s son in law and advisor Jared Kushner, his administration has made good relations with Mohammed — portrayed as a Saudi moderniser — a priority.
Trump earlier threatened “severe punishment” if it is proven that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate. But he also mused aloud that “rogue” elements may have carried out the operation and has ruled out cutting sales of US weapons, of which Saudi Arabia is the largest foreign buyer.
Meanwhile, a suspect identified by Turkey in the disappearance of Khashoggi was a frequent companion of the kingdom’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Three other suspects are linked to Prince Mohammed’s security detail and a fifth is a high-level forensic doctor, the Times said.
The account, and a similar report in The Washington Post, could raise doubts about Trump’s claim that “rogue killers” might have been responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Trump made the comment after he said Saudi King Salman strongly denied to him any knowledge of what happened.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national who contributed to The Post and criticized policies of Salman’s son Crown Prince Mohammed, has not been seen since October 2, when he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain official documents for his upcoming marriage. — AFP