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 interests of America.
The death of Khashoggi, a onetime insider turned critic of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, 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.
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