Donald Trump has expressed his unstinting support for Saudi Arabia and questioned whether Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, knew about the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
In the extraordinary statement issued on Tuesday – which begins with the words “The world is a very dangerous place!” – Trump quotes Saudi officials as describing Khashoggi as an “enemy of the state”.
The 649-word statement appears to be a presidential act of defiance against the CIA, which has reportedly concluded that the Saudi prince ordered the killing, and the Senate, which is considering bipartisan legislation that would suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia among other punitive measures.
Trump wrote: “Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
“That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
As he has in the past with Vladimir Putin, Trump put official denials of wrongdoing from Riyadh on a par with US intelligence assessments.
He said: “King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr Khashoggi.”
Trump’s statement, titled “standing with Saudi Arabia” seeks to portray the kingdom as an essential US ally in a struggle against Iran, and an irreplaceable customer for US arms sales.
It makes a series of false or unsubstantiated claims, suggesting that Riyadh is buying $110bn in US weapons. The actual total of offers since Trump took office is less than $15bn, and the value of actual signed contracts is significantly lower than that.
He said: “If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!”
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