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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Donald Trump expects to meet Saudi Crown Prince next week

US president Donald Trump said that he will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman next week on the margins of the G20 summit in Argentina.

Mr Trump was asked at the White House on Tuesday if he would meet the Saudi crown prince during the summit in Buenos Aires. He said he will if Mohammed bin Salman is there.

Yesterday, Saudi Arabia announced that the crown prince will be attending the G20 summit on November 30 and December 1. This would be the first meeting between Mr Trump and Mohammed bin Salman since last March, and the highest-level US meeting with the Saudi crown prince since the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2.

“We are with Saudi Arabia, we’re staying with Saudi Arabia,” Mr Trump said, reiterating his statement earlier on Tuesday that supports the kingdom. “We’re not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars of orders.” He warned that if he did, “I think the oil prices would go through the roof”.

Mr Trump also cautioned that Riyadh would seek deals elsewhere if US abandons its support. “They will get the military equipment and other things from Russia and China. Russia and China would be very, very happy.”

He also said there is “nothing definitive” from US intelligence that ties the Saudi crown prince to the killing, and “maybe he did, maybe he didn’t”.

Earlier on Tuesday, the president issued an unusual statement, reaffirming support to Saudi Arabia on regional issues and in countering Iran, while shying away from implicating the Saudi leadership in the killing of the Khashoggi, stating that the US intelligence agencies would continue to assess the information.

In a three-page statement titled Standing with Saudi Arabia, Mr Trump started by reiterating his America First campaign slogan and then stating that the “world is a dangerous place”.

He called the killing of Khashoggi a terrible crime, “and one that our country does not condone”. He said that US sanctions remained on 17 Saudi nationals “known to have been involved in the murder of Mr Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.”

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He also said that representatives of Saudi Arabia “say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that — this is an unacceptable and horrible crime”.

The president said that “King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr Khashoggi”. The US president has had several calls with both leaders since the murder on October 2.

As far as the US intelligence is concerned, Mr Trump said “our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

“We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi.”

The statement shifted focus on the larger US-Saudi relationship. Mr Trump called Riyadh “a great ally in our very important fight against Iran”. He said “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”.

Addressing criticism from Congress to Saudi Arabia following the Khashoggi murder, Mr Trump said it was driven by politics. “I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America.”

The statement took aim at Iran holding it “responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilise Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria [who has killed millions of his own citizens] and much more”.

It added that “Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave”.

Mr Trump also wrote of his trip to the kingdom in May last year, and the agreement from Riyadh “to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States … It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States.

“If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries — and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!”

The statement ended with the same campaign slogan, saying that “America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!”