President Donald Trump has disputed that his intelligence officials had concluded the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia ordered the killing of a US-based journalist critical of the kingdom’s royal family.
Citing vehement denials by the crown prince and king that they were involved, Mr Trump said “maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place”.
Critics in Congress and high-ranking officials in other countries are accusing Mr Trump of ignoring human rights and giving Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons, including its influence on the world oil market.
Mr Trump said this week he would not impose harsher penalties on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the death and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey last month.
“My policy is very simple: America first, keep America great again and that’s what I’m doing,” Mr Trump told reporters after a Thanksgiving Day telephone call with members of the military.
The crown prince and his father, King Salman, said they did not commit “this atrocity”, Trump said.
“It’s a terrible thing. I dislike it more than you do. But the fact is … they create tremendous wealth, really tremendous jobs in their purchases and, very importantly, they keep the oil price down.”
American intelligence agencies have concluded the crown prince ordered the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a US official familiar with the assessment.
Others familiar with the case caution that while it is likely that the crown prince was involved in the death, questions remain about the extent of his culpability.
Several lawmakers have indicated that the US has no “smoking gun” that proves the crown prince was responsible.
They have called on the CIA and other top intelligence agencies to share publicly what they told the president about the slaying.
“I hate the crime,” Mr Trump said while on vacation in Florida. “I hate what’s done. I hate the cover-up and I will tell you this – the crown prince hates it more than I do.”
He said the CIA “points it both ways and, as I said, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But I will say very strongly that it’s a very important ally and if we go by a certain standard, we won’t be able to have allies with almost any country”.
He also has pushed back on the idea that his refusal to punish the Saudis more will embolden other governments to go after journalists and commit other human-rights abuses.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed out the US has imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of involvement in the killing.