Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday bolstered President Trump’s assertion that the U.S. will remain a close strategic ally of Saudi Arabia, despite the Saudi royal family being implicated in the murder of dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.
In press conference at State Department headquarters, Mr. Pompeo said the U.S.-Saudi alliance is “vital” to American national security interests and brushed aside questions about whether the Trump administration’s overall “America First” foreign policy is putting U.S. business interests above human rights concerns in the Middle East.
“It’s a mean, nasty world out there, in the Middle East in particular,” the secretary of state said, stressing that Saudi Arabia is “an important partner of ours.”
“It’s that straightforward,” he said. “This is a long and historic commitment and one that is absolutely vital to America’s security.”
Mr. Pompeo’s remarks Tuesday afternoon came after Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. will remain “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia, citing the kingdom’s help in fighting Iran, its importance as a source of oil and its reliability as a buyer of American-made weaponry.
“We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”
Mr. Pompeo, meanwhile, downplayed a reporter’s question about the actual value of U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. While the Trump administration has said there are some $110 billion worth of such sales in the works with Riyadh, critics say only about $14.5 billion of the current deals have actually gone through.
“Some of these defense contracts are complex, lengthy contract negotiations,” Mr. Pompeo said, adding that the administration is “very hopeful” the negotiations will be completed soon. “We actually hope the number will end up being even greater,” he said.
With regard to human rights concerns — there are reports the CIA has assessed Saudi Crown Prince Prince Mohammed Bin Salman personally ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s Oct. 2 murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey — Mr. Pompeo said the Trump administration has already taken serious action against Riyadh.
“There has been an enormous effort with respect to fact-finding pertaining to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” he said, referring to efforts by U.S. intelligence to uncover exactly how the dissident writer, who wrote opinion columns critical of Crown Prince Mohammed for The Washington Post last year, was killed in Turkey.
Mr. Pompeo asserted that the Trump administration has made a “very strong response” to allegations that a Saudi government hit squat killed Mr. Khashoggi. The secretary of state noted that the administration has sanctioned 17 Saudis as part of its response to the murder.
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