Trump says US would be ‘punishing’ itself if it halts Saudi arms sales

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Journalists assemble in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 10, 2018 where Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was allegedly tortured and killed. Xinhua

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump has said the United States would be “punishing” itself by halting military sales to Saudi Arabia even if it is proven that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul.

Mr Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Riyadh and a US resident, disappeared on Oct. 2 after visiting the Saudi consulate. Turkey’s government believes he was deliberately killed inside the building and his body removed.

Mr Trump has forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia and is under international and domestic pressure to help determine what happened to Mr Khashoggi and punish Saudi Arabia if investigations show its government had him killed.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have demanded firm action. There was already mounting concern over civilian deaths caused by a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen’s civil war and some lawmakers have said Washington should block military sales to Riyadh if the allegations over Mr Khashoggi are proven.

But Mr Trump is firmly opposed.

“I actually think we’d be punishing ourselves if we did that,” Mr Trump told reporters at the White House.

“There are other things we can do that are very, very powerful, very strong and we’ll do them,” he added, without saying what those measures might be.

Mr Trump said on Saturday his administration won a $110 billion military order from Saudi Arabia and that the deal, combined with Saudi commitments to invest heavily in the United States, was worth hundreds of thousands of US jobs.

“If they don’t buy it from us, they’re going to buy it from Russia or they’re going to buy it from China,” he said. “Think of that, $110 billion. All they’re going to do is give it to other countries, and I think that would be very foolish.”

It was unclear what specific measures, if any, Mr Trump is considering against Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest oil exporter, and one of his top allies.

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