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Trump's support for Saudi prince draws outrage

Washington

PRESIDENT Donald Trump defied the nation's intelligence agencies and a growing body of evidence on Tuesday to declare his unswerving loyalty to Saudi Arabia, asserting that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's culpability for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi might never be known.

In a remarkable statement that appeared calculated to end the debate over the US response to the killing of Mr Khashoggi, the president said: "It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event - maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"

He added: "We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

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His statement, which aides said Mr Trump dictated himself and reflected his deeply held views, came only days after the CIA concluded that the crown prince, a close ally of the White House, had authorised the killing of Mr Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for The Washington Post.

In a world of malefactors, Mr Trump argued, Iran's crimes exceeded anything Saudi Arabia had done. His words seemed certain to alienate Turkey, a Nato ally that has raised the pressure on Saudi Arabia to offer a full accounting of what happened to Mr Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

They also drew outrage from members of Congress and human rights activists, for whom the grisly killing has become a test of America's willingness to overlook the crimes of a strategically valuable ally. Even Mr Trump's staunchest allies on Capitol Hill expressed revulsion.

Far from criticising the crown prince or other Saudi leaders, the president came close to embracing the narrative of Mr Khashoggi's critics in the kingdom: that Mr Khashoggi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an "enemy of the state" bent on undermining the House of Saud.

Punishing Saudi Arabia, Mr Trump said, would put at risk US$110 billion (S$151 billion) in sales from American military contractors, as well as US$340 billion in other investments.

Economists and military analysts said those numbers were so exaggerated as to be fanciful. NYTIMES