Monday 16 September 2019

Trump thanks Saudis after defying calls to punish prince

The US president has thanked Saudi Arabia for plunging oil prices.

Donald Trump has thanked Saudi Arabia for plunging oil prices (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Donald Trump has thanked Saudi Arabia for plunging oil prices (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

By Deb Riechmann, Associated Press

President Donald Trump has publicly thanked Saudi Arabia for plunging oil prices a day after deciding not to further punish the kingdom for the killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr Trump, who made clear in a statement that he feels the benefits of good relations with the kingdom outweigh the possibility its crown prince ordered the killing, tweeted that it’s “Great!” that oil prices are falling.

“Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!” he wrote from his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is spending Thanksgiving.

The international crude benchmark has fallen under 65 US dollars (£50) per barrel from a four-year high of more than 86 dollars (£67) in early October as the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia have stepped up output.

However, OPEC, the cartel of oil-producing countries, could announce production cuts at its December 6 meeting in Vienna, nudging prices upward.

The president condemned the killing of Mr Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post who had criticised the royal family.

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Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

Mr Trump described the killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as a “horrible crime … that our country does not condone”.

But he rejected calls by many in Congress, including members of his own party, for a tougher response, and he dismissed reports from US intelligence agencies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known about the plot.

“It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event,” the president said. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

The US earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the October 2 killing, but members of Congress have called for harsher actions, including cancelling arms sales.

Mr Trump said “foolishly cancelling these contracts” worth billions of dollars would only benefit Russia and China, which would be next in line to supply the weapons.

Critics, including high-ranking officials in other countries, denounced Mr Trump’s statement, saying he ignored human rights and granted Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons.

Asked by a reporter if he was saying that human rights are too expensive to fight for, Mr Trump responded: “No, I’m not saying that at all.”

But he preferred to focus on Iran rather than any actions by Saudi Arabia. The US needs a “counterbalance” to Iran, “and Israel needs help, too,” he said. “If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake.”

Mr Trump was roundly criticised by Democrats, but some Republicans weighed in against him, too.

Republican senator Rand Paul said the Trump administration has “blinders on” in comparing Iran and Saudi Arabia and said Mr Trump showed weakness in not standing up to Saudi Arabia.

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted: “I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”

PA Media

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