President Trump said Thursday that “it would not be acceptable to me” to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to the disappearance last week of a Washington Post columnist after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump said he was open to other actions but questioned the wisdom of not selling military weapons, saying Saudi Arabia could instead turn to Russia or China, hurting U.S. defense companies.
“What good does that do us?” Trump asked.
On his first international trip as president, Trump visited Saudi Arabia and announced $110 billion in proposed arms sales. (The figure has been challenged by outside analysts, including The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, which called it “not real and unlikely to come to fruition — and even if it did, it represents sales far in the future.”)
The administration also relies on Saudi support for several aspects of its Middle East agenda.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered an operation to lure columnist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia from his home in Virginia and then detain him, according to U.S. intelligence intercepts of Saudi officials discussing the plan.
Turkish officials say that a Saudi security team lay in wait for the journalist and killed him.
“We don’t like it, and we don’t like it even a little bit,” Trump said. “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 of them very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me.”
Trump’s comments Thursday echoed arguments made in a Fox News interview on Wednesday night in which he said he wants to find out what happened to Khashoggi but expressed concerns about the economic impact of blocking arms shipments.
“We have jobs. We have a lot of things happening in this country,” Trump said. “We have a country that’s doing probably better economically than it’s ever done before. Part of that is what we are doing with our defense systems and everybody is wanting them and frankly, I think that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country.”
In a separate Fox News interview on Thursday morning, Trump characterized the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia as “excellent.”
Asked about The Post report that the crown prince ordered an operation to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, Trump said: “Well, it would be a very sad thing, and we would probably know in the very short future.”
“We have investigators over there and we’re working with Turkey and frankly we’re working with Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “We want to find out what happened. He went in, and it doesn’t look like he came out. It certainly doesn’t look like he’s around.”
During the Wednesday night interview, Trump took another shot at the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) for voting against a Republican bill last year to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature initiative.
“We had it beat other than one senator, or you could put it differently,” Trump said. “One senator late in the evening happened to vote against it, shockingly even though he campaigned for 10 — for eight years against it,” Trump said.
Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.