The mysterious disappearance of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, has placed the US president under increasing pressure to act against Riyadh. However, President Trump refused to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying to reporters on October 11th, “it would not be acceptable to me.”
“We don’t like it and we don’t like it even a little bit,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, referring to Khashoggi’s disappearance. Trump said he was open to other actions but questioned the wisdom of not selling military weapons, saying Saudi Arabia could instead turn to Russia or China, hurting US defence companies. “What good does that do us?” Trump asked. “But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country -- knowing they have four or five alternatives, two of them very good alternatives -- that would not be acceptable to me.”
Inside Congress, a bipartisan group of more than 20 senators, including Trump loyalists such as Lindsey Graham, asked the administration to investigate Khashoggi’s possible killing and to conduct a statutory required investigation into whether sanctions against Saudi Arabia should be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
That law, enacted and then expanded during the Obama administration, says the president must conduct an investigation if requested by the leaders of the Foreign Relations Committee and then report back to the panel on whether the US will impose sanctions.
Responding to criticism from both Republicans and Democrats that he has been slow to act, Trump declared that he was looking intently into the disappearance of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in Istanbul, saying, “We have investigators over there and we're working with Turkey and, frankly, we're working with Saudi Arabia. We want to find out what happened. He went in and it doesn't look like he came out. It certainly doesn't look like he's around.” The statement during a Fox and Friends TV interview, flummoxed US officials in Washington, who said no formal request from Turkey had yet been received.
Under FBI guidelines, the bureau can assist in an overseas investigation if it receives a specific request for assistance from the host country where a crime has been committed (though in the case of acts of terrorism or offences against US citizens the FBI will investigate anyway). However, Turkey, with whom the Trump administration has had tense relations, has resisted asking for help, saying that apart from Saudi assistance it is acting on its own.
In his first trip abroad as president, Trump visited Riyadh and announced plans to sell $110 billion in weapons to the Saudis, presenting it as a boon to US industry. If the administration notifies Congress of a new arms sale to Saudi Arabia, lawmakers will have 30 days to block it if they decide to take such an aggressive step.