Trump: Saudi journalist's death 'a plot gone awry'

Trump says he believes death of Jamal Khashoggi was “a plot gone awry”, will oppose efforts to cease arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Ben Ariel ,

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump said Monday that he is "not satisfied" with the response from Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but said later he still believed it was “a plot gone awry”.

Speaking to reporters, the president said he had spoken to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi's disappearance after he entered Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey this month.

"I am not satisfied with what I’ve heard. We're going to get to the bottom of it," Trump stated. Reacting to Saudi requests to extend the Khashoggi investigation for another month, he added, “I think it’s a long time. There’s no reason for that.”

In a subsequent interview with USA Today, Trump indicated he would oppose efforts to cease arms sales to the kingdom in response to the journalist’s murder.

There are “many other” potential penalties, he told the newspaper, saying he would be guided by consultations with key members of Congress in settling on the appropriate response.

Trump said he had talked on the phone with both the Saudi Crown Prince and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and that more details about what happened inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey would be known within a day or two.

“He says he is not involved nor is the king,” Trump said of the Saudi Crown Prince, declining to answer whether he believed his denials. If their involvement was proven, “I would be very upset about it. We’ll have to see.”

He called the killing of Khashoggi, a journalist and columnist for The Washington Post, “foolish and stupid.”

At the same time, Trump said billions of dollars in US arms sales to the Saudis were an economic boon to Americans and a transaction that Russian and Chinese firms would be delighted to make, if the United States ended them. “We have a very big picture we have to keep in mind,” he said, noting also Saudi’s role in countering Iran's influence in the Middle East.

In characterizing the Khashoggi incident as a "plot gone awry," Trump indicated that he thought the journalist wasn’t deliberately lured into the consulate to be murdered.

Saudi Arabia admitted for the first time on Friday that Khashoggi was killed after entering the consulate in Istanbul.

A report on Saudi Arabia's state-owned television channel said that Khashoggi was murdered at the consulate earlier this month after a brawl broke out. According to the report, the meeting "did not go as required and developed in a negative way, leading to a fight and a quarrel".

Turkish officials concluded two weeks ago that Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who was also a contributor to The Washington Post, was murdered inside the Saudi mission in Istanbul after going missing.

Until Friday, Saudi Arabia denied the Turkish claims, saying it had no knowledge of his whereabouts and insisting he left the building alive.

Trump’s comments mark the second time in two days that the president has made clear that he is "not satisfied" with Saudi Arabia's account of Khashoggi’s death. On Saturday, however, he also said it was "possible" that the powerful Saudi Crown Prince did not know about the killing of Khashoggi.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir insisted on Sunday that the kingdom did not know where the body of the slain journalist was.

Speaking to Fox News, Jubeir said the Saudi leadership initially believed Khashoggi had left its diplomatic mission in Istanbul, where he was last seen on October 2.

But following "reports we were getting from Turkey," Saudi authorities began an investigation, which discovered "he was killed in the consulate", added Jubeir.

"We don't know, in terms of details, how. We don't know where the body is," the Saudi minister insisted, adding that the Saudi public prosecutor had ordered the detention of 18 individuals, "the first step in a long journey."