U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he stood by Saudi Arabia's crown prince despite a CIA assessment that he ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and pleas from U.S. senators for Trump to condemn the Crown Prince.
Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi's death more than two months ago.
"He's the leader of Saudi Arabia. They've been a very good ally," Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office. Adding "I've heard that he's very strongly in power."
Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by the prince, known as MbS, Trump responded: "Well, at this moment, it certainly does."
Trump again reiterated on Tuesday that the "crown prince vehemently denies" involvement in a killing that has sparked outrage around the world.
Trump has come under fierce criticism from fellow Republicans in the Senate over the issue, particularly after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed them.
Last month, the CIA assessed that MbS ordered the killing, which Trump called "very premature."
"You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MbS," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said last week.
Meeting with senators
Graham and other senators who have supported the U.S.-Saudi alliance over the years have said that Trump should impose more sanctions after a first round targeted 17 Saudis for their alleged role in the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Trump said he hoped senators would not propose stopping arms sales to the Saudis, deals he has doggedly fought to save ever since the gruesome details of Khashoggi's murder were leaked by Turkey.
"And I really hope that people aren't going to suggest that we should not take hundreds of billions of dollars that they're going to siphon off to Russia and to China," Trump said.
Trump commenting on the war in Yemen said "Well, I'm much more open to Yemen because frankly, I hate to see what's going on in Yemen," Trump said. "But it takes two to tango. I'd want to see Iran pull out of Yemen too. Because - and I think they will."