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Won’t ‘abandon’ Saudi over Khashoggi killing: Donald Trump

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Donald Trump

Washington | US President Donald Trump has defended his decision not to hold Saudi rulers accountable in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying maintaining strategic ties with the kingdom and keeping the global oil prices down were in the best interest of America.

The death of Khashoggi, a onetime insider turned critic of the crown prince and a resident of the US, has spurred a wave of international anger against Saudi Arabia and its rulers.

The US last week imposed sanctions on 17 individuals of Saudi Arabia for serious human rights abuse resulting from their roles in the killing of Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

“Because it’s America first to me,” Trump told reporters, adding that despite Khashoggi’s murder, the US will remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia to ensure its interests as well as those of Israel and all other partners in the region.

“It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!” he said in a statement that immediately drew sharp criticism from his political opponents.

“I’m shocked that President Trump said there will be no punishment for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said as she and several other lawmakers announced their plan to bring in legislations to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Responding to questions from reporters at the White House before leaving for Florida to spend his Thanksgiving holidays, Trump said his decision was all about America first.

“We’re not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars in orders and let Russia, China and everybody else have them. It’s all about — for me — very simple, it’s America first,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia, if we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof. I’ve kept them down. They’ve helped me keep them down. Right now, we have low oil prices, or relatively I’d like to see it go down even lower. “But I think that it’s a very simple equation for me. I’m about making America great again and I’m about America first,” Trump argued.

He denied the allegations that this was at the expense of human rights. “No, I’m not saying that at all. If you look at Iran… and you look at what they’re doing, they are a terrorist nation right now. Although, I must tell you, they’re a lot better right now than they were when I took office. When I took office, they were heading in a very, very bad direction.

“At some point, things very positive, frankly, could happen with Iran, but we also need a counterbalance. And Israel needs help also. If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake,” Trump warned.

The President refuted The Washington Post’s allegations that by taking such a decision, he was putting his personal and commercial interests ahead of national interests.

“Well, I have nothing to do with Saudi — just so you understand, I don’t make deals with Saudi Arabia. I don’t have money from Saudi Arabia. I have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia. I couldn’t care less,” he said. “I will tell you and as most of you know, being President has cost me a fortune and that’s okay with me,” he said.

“All I do is focus on this country and making great deals for this country. I don’t focus on making on great deals for myself because I don’t care anymore,” Trump said. Saudi Arabia, Trump said, is buying hundreds of billions of dollars worth of things from the US.

“If I say we don’t want to take your business, if I say we’re going to cut it off, they will get the equipment — military equipment and other things — from Russia and China,” he said, adding that in that case the two countries would be “very, very happy” because right now the US is doing “very well” against China.

“We’re doing very well against everybody including Russia. I’m going to keep it that way. I’m not going to tell a country that is spending hundreds of billions of dollars and has helped me do one thing very importantly — keep oil prices down so that they’re not going to USD 100 and USD 150 dollars a barrel,” he said.

Noting that the oil prices right now are in a great shape, Trump insisted that he is not going to destroy the world economy. “I’m not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia,” he added.

India International

Indian diplomat walks out of SAARC meeting in Pakistan over minister’s presence

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Islamabad | An official of the Indian High Commission in Pakistan staged a walkout of a SAARC meeting over the presence of a minister from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) at the event, according to source here. Diplomat Shubham Singh, left the meeting to register India’s protest over the presence of PoK minister Chaudhary Muhammad Saeed at the SAARC Chambers of Commerce and Industry meeting on the SAARC Charter Day in Islamabad on Sunday.

India considers Kashmir as its integral part and does not recognise any minister for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).  In 2016, India had pulled out of the 19th SAARC summit that was to be held in Islamabad after the deadly terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri. The summit was called off after Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also declined to attend. No SAARC meeting has happened ever since.

India called off the foreign minister-level talks with Pakistan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York in September after the brutal killing of policemen in Jammu and Kashmir and the release of a postage stamp by Pakistan that glorified Kashmiri militant commander Burhan Wani.

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Donald Trump’s potential next chief of staff pick leaving White House

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Washington | The White House official widely touted as Donald Trump’s favourite to succeed his outgoing chief of staff John Kelly is instead leaving the administration at year’s end, he tweeted.

Nick Ayers, the 36-year-old chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, tweeted on Sunday that “I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause,” referring to Trump’s campaign.

“Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House.” Trump announced Saturday that Kelly, 68, would leave the administration – the latest key personnel move at a time of mounting pressure from the Russia election-meddling probe that comes amid increased focus on preparing for the 2020 elections.

Shortly after Ayers said he would not take on the role, Trump jumped online to tweet: “I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff.”

“Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda,” he continued, adding that “I will be making a decision soon!” Ayers reportedly would not commit to signing on through 2020 to the president’s irritation.

And according to sources cited by The Washington Post, the youthful but politically savvy senior staffer was “skeptical” of taking the position because of the rocky tenures of Kelly and his predecessor Reince Priebus.

When Kelly was picked in July 2017 to replace Priebus, he inherited a White House plagued by political intrigue and internal disorder, and under a cloud because of the allegations of collusion with Russia.

Other potentials on Trump’s shortlist include Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Republican congressman Mark Meadows, a leader of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, according to the Post. The impending departure leaves Trump reliant on a reduced group of key advisers even as he prepares to deal in the new year with a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

The opposition party will have the power to launch investigations, issue subpoenas, and generally make his life more difficult.

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International News

‘I can’t breathe’ were Jamal Khashoggi’s final words: Reports

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Washington | Jamal Khashoggi‘s final words were “I can’t breathe”, CNN has said, citing a source who has read the transcript of an audio tape of the final moments before the journalist’s murder. The source told the US network the transcript made clear the killing was premeditated, and suggests several phone calls were made to give briefings on the progress.

CNN said on Sunday Turkish officials believe those calls were made to top officials in Riyadh. Khashoggi, a Saudi contributor to The Washington Post, was killed shortly after entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2. The transcript of the gruesome recording includes descriptions of Khashoggi struggling against his murderers, CNN said, and references sounds of the dissident journalist’s body “being dismembered by a saw.”

The original transcript was prepared by Turkish intelligence services, and CNN said its source read a translation version and was briefed on the probe into the journalist’s death. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Sunday meanwhile rejected demands to extradite suspects connected to the murder of Khashoggi as sought by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has repeatedly called on Saudi Arabia to hand over suspects in the killing. According to Turkey, a 15-member Saudi team was sent to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia, however, holds that it was a “rogue” operation gone wrong — a claim undercut by the reported transcript.

For his part US President Donald Trump has refrained from blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, even though the CIA reportedly concluded that he ordered the assassination. The murder has damaged Riyadh’s international reputation and Western countries including the United States, France and Canada have placed sanctions on nearly 20 Saudi nationals.

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