Don’t Let One Missing Journalist Get In the Way of $110 Billion in Saudi Arms Sales, Trump Says

Brushing back calls for a response, Trump notes Jamal Khashoggi was “not a United States citizen.”

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

President Donald Trump on Thursday rejected calls to halt $110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite mounting reports indicating the kingdom played a direct role in the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi critic, went missing after entering the country’s consulate in Istanbul last week. A Turkish inquiry has reportedly concluded he was murdered inside the building.

“What good does that do us?” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, in reference to calls to cancel the arms deal. “There are other things we can do.”

“We don’t like it even a little bit,” he continued, speaking of Khashoggi’s disappearance. “But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country knowing they have four or five alternatives, two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me.”

While the president claimed to “not like” the unfolding diplomatic crisis, he also appeared startlingly unfamiliar with key details surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance. In the middle of his remarks, the president asked for some help: “This took place in Turkey and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen, is that right, or is that right?”

“Permanent resident,” a reporter clarified. Trump seemed to register the fact as if he were learning it for the first time.

Trump’s refusal to stop the arms sales comes amid increasing demands from bipartisan lawmakers for Trump to hold the Saudi Arabian government accountable for Khashoggi’s alleged assassination. During his exchange with reporters on Thursday, Trump again failed to outline key steps the administration was taking to get to the bottom of Khashoggi’s disappearance along with what potential measures he would take to punish the Saudis.

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