Trump defends weapon sales to Saudis
President Donald Trump defended continuing huge sales of U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia on Thursday despite rising pressure from lawmakers to punish the kingdom over the disappearance of a Saudi journalist who lived in the United States and is now feared dead.
As senators pushed for sanctions under a human-rights law and also questioned American support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, Trump appeared reluctant to rock the boat in a relationship that has been key to his strategy in the Middle East and which he described as “excellent.” He said withholding sales would hurt the U.S. economy.
“I don’t like stopping massive amounts of money that’s been pouring into our country. They are spending 110 billion on military equipment,” Trump said, referring to proposed sales announced in May 2017 when he went to Saudi Arabia in the first overseas trip of his presidency. He warned that the Saudis could instead buy from Russia or China.
Trump maintained that the U.S. is being “very tough” as it looks into the case of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi leadership and a contributor to The Washington Post who has been missing since Oct. 2. He had entered a Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul to get marriage paperwork as his fiancee waited outside and hasn’t been seen since.
Turkish officials say they fear Saudi Arabia killed and dismembered Khashoggi but have offered no evidence beyond video footage of the journalist entering the consulate and the arrival in the country of what they describe as a 15-member Saudi team that allegedly targeted him. Saudi Arabia has denied the allegation as “baseless.”