0104 GMT December 17, 2018
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reacted to the US president’s announcement that he would stick with Saudi Arabia despite the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, describing the remarks as “shameful.”
“Mr. Trump bizarrely devotes the FIRST paragraph of his shameful statement on Saudi atrocities to accuse IRAN of every sort of malfeasance he can think of,” Zarif wrote on Twitter late Tuesday.
Trump’s statement on Saudi Arabia did indeed open with a litany of complaints against Iran, which he used to justify his continued backing of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, AFP reported.
“Perhaps we’re also responsible for the California fires, because we didn’t help rake the forests – just like the Finns do?” Zarif added in jest.
Zarif appeared to be referring to recent remarks in which Trump suggested raking the forest floor prevented fires in Finland and would have helped to prevent California’s devastating wildfires.
Asked by a reporter if he was saying that human rights are too expensive to fight for, Trump responded, “No, I’m not saying that at all.” But then he switched the subject to Iran.
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,” said Trump, according to AP.
“We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Trump said. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”
The mistake was Trump’s, said Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, 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,” Paul said.
Trump declared he will not further punish Saudi Arabia for the killing of US-based columnist Khashoggi, making clear that the benefits of good relations with the kingdom outweigh the possibility its crown prince ordered the killing.
The president condemned the brutal slaying of Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as a “horrible crime ... that our country does not condone.” But he rejected calls by many in Congress, including members of his own party, for a tougher response, and he dismissed reports from US intelligence agencies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known about such an audacious and intricate plot.
“It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event,” the president said Tuesday. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
In many ways, the statement captured Trump’s view of the world and foreign policy, grounded in economic necessity. It began with the words “America First!” followed by “The world is a very dangerous place!”
It came after weeks of debate over whether the US 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 criticized the royal family.
The US earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the Oct. 2 killing, but members of Congress have called for harsher actions, including canceling arms sales.
Arms deals with Saudi Arabia
Trump added that “foolishly canceling these contracts” worth billions of dollars would only benefit Russia and China, which would be next in line to supply the weapons. Critics, including high-ranking officials in other countries, denounced Trump’s statement, saying he ignored human rights and granted Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons.
Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that to suggest that US silence can be bought with arms sales “undermines respect for the office of the presidency, the credibility of our intelligence community and America’s standing as a champion of human rights.”
Trump told reporters on the South Lawn that oil prices would “skyrocket” if the US broke with the Saudis, and he was not going to “destroy” the world’s economy by being “foolish with Saudi Arabia.”
However, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called Khashoggi’s killing “a humanitarian issue” and said it should not be covered up for the sake of maintaining trade ties with Saudi Arabia.
“It concerns a murder,” Cavusoglu said. “It is not possible to say, ‘Our trade will increase. Let’s cover this up. Let’s ignore it.’”
Trump said that King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed both “vigorously deny” any knowledge of the planning or execution of the killing. He also said the CIA had not made a conclusive determination about whether the crown prince ordered it.
A US official familiar with the case told The Associated Press last week that intelligence officials had concluded that the crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto leader, did order the killing.
Saudi prosecutors say a 15-man team sent to Istanbul exceeded its authority when the lead negotiator in the team decided to kill Khashoggi for refusing orders to return. It has been said that the agents dismembered his body, which has not been found.
Democrats on Capitol Hill called on the CIA and other top intelligence agencies to publicly report what it has learned about the killing.
“Siding with a murderous regime”
Late last week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that calls for suspending weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, for sanctions on people who block humanitarian access in Yemen and mandatory sanctions on those responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
Democrats harshly criticized Trump’s decision Tuesday and called on Congress to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia and end support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen, which is facing a humanitarian crisis.
“Standing with Saudi Arabia is not ‘America First!’” said Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, where Khashoggi lived. “President Trump has sided with a murderous regime over patriotic American intelligence officials.”