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Trump vetoes more action against Saudis

Donald Trump. Picture by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
By Associated Press Reporter

Donald Trump has said the US will not punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the time being nor cut arms sales to Saudi Arabia for the killing of US-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr Trump called the killing of Mr Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, a "horrible crime" that the US does not condone, but said Saudi Arabia is a "great ally" and cancelling billions in arms sales would only benefit China and Russia, which would be glad to step in and make the sales.

His decision, announced in a statement released just before he left for the long Thanksgiving weekend in Florida, will disappoint and anger critics who have called for a much firmer rebuke to the kingdom and especially Mr bin Salman.

US intelligence officials have concluded that Mr bin Salman, the kingdom's de factor leader, ordered the October 2 killing, according to a US official familiar with the assessment.

Others familiar with the case caution that while it is likely that the crown prince had a role in the death, there continue to be questions about the degree to which he was involved.

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

Mr Trump said in his statement on Tuesday that the king of Saudi Arabia and the crown prince "vigorously deny" any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr Khashoggi.

"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!" Trump said.

"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. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran."

He said the US intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of the country. "America First!" he wrote.

Mr Trump said he knows some members of Congress will disagree with his decision. He said he would listen to their ideas, but only if they are focused on US national security.

Late last week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that calls for suspending weapons sales to Saudi Arabia; sanctions on people who block humanitarian access in Yemen or support the Houthi rebels, and mandatory sanctions on those responsible for Mr Khashoggi's death.

Some foreign policy experts have not only recommended tougher punitive measures against Saudi Arabia, but have advocated for a complete reset on relations with Riyadh.

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