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Trump defies calls to punish Saudi crown prince for Khashoggi death

The US president made it clear the benefits of good relations with the kingdom outweigh the possibility its crown prince ordered the killing.

President Donald Trump has declared he will not further punish Saudi Arabia for the killing of US-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr Trump made it clear in an exclamation-filled statement that the benefits of good relations with the kingdom outweigh the possibility its crown prince ordered the killing.

The president condemned the killing of Mr Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as a “horrible crime … that our country does not condone”.

Maybe he did and maybe he didn't Donald Trump on what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman knew

But he rejected calls by many in Congress, including members of his own party, for a tougher response, and dismissed reports from US intelligence agencies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known about the plot.

“It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event,” the president said. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”

The statement began with the words “America First!” followed by “The world is a very dangerous place!”

It came after weeks of debate over whether the president would or should come down hard on the Saudis and the crown prince in response to the killing of the Saudi columnist for The Washington Post who had criticised the royal family.

The US earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the October 2 killing, but members of Congress have called for harsher actions, including cancelling arms sales.

Mr Trump said “foolishly cancelling these contracts” worth billions of dollars would only benefit Russia and China, which would be next in line to supply the weapons.

Critics denounced Mr Trump’s statement saying he ignored human rights and granted Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons.

Asked by a reporter if he was saying that human rights are too expensive to fight for, he responded: “No, I’m not saying that at all.”

But then he switched the subject to the “terrorist nation” of Iran rather than any actions by Saudi Arabia.

The US needs a “counterbalance” to Iran, “and Israel needs help, too,” he said. “If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake.”

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Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

Republican senator Rand Paul said Mr Trump was making a mistake, contending the administration has “blinders on” in comparing Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“It’s a sign of weakness not to stand up to Saudi Arabia,” Mr Paul said in an interview. “Sometimes when you have two evils, maybe you don’t support either side.”

Republican Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who is close to Mr Trump, also disagreed with the president’s statement, saying America must not lose its “moral voice” on the international stage.

“It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi,” Mr Graham said.

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