Trump calls Saudi Crown Prince a friend amid outcry over slain journalist

United States President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Osaka. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
United States President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Osaka. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

OSAKA • United States President Donald Trump has praised Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for curbing the flow of financing to terror groups, amid international outcry over the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"For a long time, there were questions about whether Saudi Arabia or other countries were sponsoring terror," Mr Trump said yesterday at the start of a meeting with the Prince on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

"A tremendous effort has been put on to go exactly the opposite way. We have a great relationship and that's very important," he said, calling the Prince - known as MBS - a "friend of mine".

Mr Trump has made Saudi Arabia the centrepiece of his Middle East strategy of isolating Iran, hosting Prince Mohammed in the Oval Office months after his inauguration, promising hundreds of billions of dollars in weapons sales to the kingdom and making his first trip abroad as president to Riyadh.

Still, the meeting comes just over a week after the US Senate voted to block arms sales to the kingdom.

 
 

Republicans and Democrats have demanded greater scrutiny of Saudi Arabia over the military campaign it is leading in Yemen's civil war and over the killing of Mr Khashoggi by Saudi agents.

At a briefing after the meeting with Prince Mohammed, Mr Trump said he raised the issue of the killing when they met. "I did mention it to him very strongly," said Mr Trump, adding that he was told by the Prince that at least 13 people are being prosecuted over the death of the Washington Post columnist.

While Prince Mohammed has denied any role in the death of Mr Khashoggi - the former government insider and MBS critic who was killed and dismembered last October after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul - a United Nations expert assigned to investigate the circumstances has recommended probing the Crown Prince's possible involvement.

The meeting also comes days after Mr Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner convened a workshop in Bahrain of representatives of Gulf nations, including the Saudis, to present a US$50 billion (S$67.6 billion) economic plan aimed at enticing Palestinians to reach a peace agreement with Israel.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 30, 2019, with the headline 'Trump calls Saudi Crown Prince a friend amid outcry over slain journalist'. Print Edition | Subscribe