Trump sounds skepticism over shifting Saudi explanations

President Donald Trump offered fresh skepticism on Monday of an...

Posted: Oct 23, 2018 5:43 AM
Updated: Oct 23, 2018 5:43 AM

President Donald Trump offered fresh skepticism on Monday of an evolving Saudi explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, telling reporters he wasn't pleased with Riyadh's version of events and that he was eagerly awaiting further details.

"I am not satisfied with what I heard," Trump told reporters at the White House, echoing concerns the President has aired mostly in private that Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have not been fully transparent in explaining how Khashoggi died and which officials were involved.

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On Friday, Saudi Arabia offered an official account alleging the death came after an altercation inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The kingdom said Khashoggi died after a fistfight with a team of officials who were working to secure his return to Saudi Arabia. They said a full report on the kingdom's intelligence services would come in a month.

Trump said Monday that was an unnecessarily long time -- "There's no reason for that" -- and suggested he would soon learn additional information that would shed light on the death, which occurred earlier this month.

"We have tremendously talented people that do this very well," Trump said before departing the White House for a Texas campaign rally. "They're coming back tonight and tomorrow and I will know very soon."

Trump's dubious tone was a shift from last week, when the President said he was pleased with the steps Saudi Arabia took in assigning blame for the death. He said during a stop in Arizona that he found their explanations credible.

"It's a big first step. It's only a first step, but it's a big first step," he said.

Since then, Trump has held conversations with aides and officials that led to his doubts over the official Saudi account. He spoke on Sunday with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and said on Monday he'd spoken to Prince Mohammed, though did not indicate when that conversation took place.

Despite his skepticism, Trump maintained his insistence on Monday that US arms sales to Saudi Arabia not be impacted by the diplomatic crisis. And one of his top advisers on Middle East issues, Jared Kushner, indicated Saudi Arabia would continue as a US ally.

"The Middle East is a rough place. It's been a rough place for a very long time. And we have to be able to pursue our strategic objectives," Kushner said in an interview with Van Jones at the Citizen by CNN festival. "But we also have to deal with obviously what seems to be a terrible situation."

The partnership was evident Monday as US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met in Riyadh with the Prince to discuss terror financing issues. Like many corporate titans and media personalities, Mnuchin canceled his appearance at an investment summit hosted in the Saudi capital this week. But he maintained his scheduled meetings with Saudi government officials this week, part of a multi-country Middle East trip.

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicized Mnuchin's arrival, tweeting a photo of him and Mohammed sitting in large armchairs as they conversed.

A Treasury spokesperson tweeted that Mnuchin addressed the Khashoggi investigation as well as other issues in his meeting with the crown prince. No official readout has been provided from the bilateral meeting.

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