President Donald Trump expressed hesitance about cancelling a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia following the alleged murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump argued that the thousands of jobs could be threatened if the arms order were to be jettisoned. “If they don’t buy it from us, they’re going to buy it from Russia or they’re going to buy it from China,” Trump said. “We’re going to be punishing ourselves if we do that.”
Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who resides in Virginia, went missing and was allegedly killed when he visited Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The Saudi government has denied involvement in the incident, while the Turkish government claims to have audio and video proof that Khashoggi was killed.
The ordeal has had serious ramifications for Saudi Arabia’s lobbying and public-relations efforts in Washington, D.C. Uber, The New York Times NYT, +0.60% CNN T, +1.57% CNBC CMCSA, +2.82% and other companies pulled out of an upcoming investment conference, dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” this week. Other companies that do business with the Middle East nation could also face pressure in coming weeks.
“If they don’t buy it from us, they’re going to buy it from Russia or they’re going to buy it from China. We’re going to be punishing ourselves if we do that.”
Trump said he has not yet reviewed the audio and that he plans to speak with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.
Throughout the week, Trump has pushed back against calls from Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and others to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the incident. In a teaser of an upcoming interview with “60 Minutes,” Trump said there would be serious consequences for Saudi Arabia if an investigation confirmed their involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Trump declined to give specifics Saturday on how the White House plans to respond if Saudi Arabia is implicated.
The president’s comments Saturday were made in response to a reporter’s question during his meeting with Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who was held in jail in Turkey for two years over charges including collaborating with terrorists and participating in a coup attempt. He said the timing of Brunson’s release and Khashoggi’s disappearance was a “total coincidence” and noted that he has invited Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, to the White House.
Brunson had lived in Turkey with his family for more than two decades before his arrest. During the meeting, Brunson recited a prayer he had written for President Trump.
Trump also echoed statements he made on Twitter TWTR, +3.67% earlier Saturday thanking Turkish President Recep Erdogan for his role in securing Brunson’s release, but cautioning that no special deal or ransom was made. “We feel much different about Turkey today than we did yesterday,” Trump said.
Turkey-U.S. relations suffered in recent months thanks to a tariff scuffle and the implementation of sanctions over Brunson’s detention.
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