President Donald Trump on Friday called Saudi Arabia’s admission that a prominent dissident journalist died at its consulate in Turkey and the announcement that the kingdom has fired five top officials and arrested 18 unnamed individuals in conjunction with its investigation “a good first step.”
His comments came after Saudi Arabia said Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a “fistfight” at its consulate in Istanbul, the first time it has acknowledged his death.
Speaking during a defense roundtable at Luke Air Force Base in Scottsdale, Arizona, Trump said he finds the Saudis’ initial assessment of what happened to Khashoggi credible. He was careful, however, to call their premise that the killing was an escalation of a fist fight that broke out between Saudi security officials and the journalist a “theory.”
“I do,” the president said when asked if the Saudis’ explanation was credible. “Again it’s early. We haven’t finished our review or investigation. But I think it’s a very important first step and it happened sooner than expected.”
Trump said he wants to speak with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about the incident as the U.S. continues its own investigation of the matter.
He reiterated comments he made earlier in the day that he intends to work with Congress in crafting a response to the killing.
“I would prefer if there was going to be some form of sanction … I would prefer that we don’t use as retribution canceling $110 billion worth of work,” Trump said, referring to arms deals he’s said he is brokering with the kingdom.
He had earlier told the White House press pool traveling with him in Arizona that he was open to sanctions on Saudi Arabia in light of the killing, saying, “I will very much listen to what Congress has to say.”
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