Trump not keen to limit Saudi arms sales amid Khashoggi probe

Jamal Khashoggi's fianc

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says the ambassador is on his way back to Saudi Arabia and has been told, "When you come back we'd like to hear a report from you". But senior members of Congress with access to US intelligence reporting feared the worst.

President Donald Trump and his top advisers have cultivated a close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Trump has touted the Saudi Arabian government's promise to buy "lots of attractive military equipment" from the U.S.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the Saudi ambassador to the US was traveling to Saudi Arabia, and that the USA expects him to provide information about the Khashoggi case when he returns.

Speaking to reporters, Trump said he saw no reason to block Saudi purchases of US arms or its investments in the United States despite the journalist's case, saying the Gulf nation would just move its money into Russian Federation and China.

Khashoggi was last seen on October 2 entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get documents for his forthcoming marriage.

Billionaire businessman Sir Richard Branson has ratcheted up pressure on Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of a prominent journalist by freezing several business links to the Gulf kingdom.

Saudi officials have denied any wrongdoing in Khashoggi's disappearance and claim that he left the consulate, where he had gone to obtain official documents before his upcoming wedding, shortly after his arrival. His fiancée, waiting outside, said he never emerged and Turkish sources said they believe Khashoggi was killed in the building. Those reported details, along with comments from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appeared aimed at gradually pressuring Saudi Arabia to reveal what happened while also balancing a need to maintain Saudi investments in Turkey and relations on other issues. "They are spending 110 billion on military equipment", Trump said, referring to proposed sales announced in May 2017 when he went to Saudi Arabia in the first overseas trip of his presidency. Some U.S. lawmakers want the U.S.to stop the military sales because of Saudi Arabia's alleged involvement in the case of a missing Saudi writer who vanished after entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Turkish investigators were prepared to enter the consulate, a Turkish security official told Reuters, but were awaiting final authorization from the Saudis. He also called for at least a temporary halt in USA military support for the Saudi bombing campaign against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.

Around the time Khashoggi entered the consulate, a second private plane from Riyadh took off for Istanbul.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy voiced doubt there would be support in Congress to approve another arms sale to Saudi Arabia - although lawmakers haven't blocked sales before.

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The Virgin Group founder joined a mounting chorus of worldwide concern about the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, who vanished last week.

In a later interview with "Fox News at Night", Mr Trump said "it would not be a good thing at all" if the Saudis were proven to be involved.

However, three USA law enforcement sources said that because Khashoggi is not an American citizen and disappeared outside the country, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has no automatic jurisdiction to get involved in the case and could only become involved if requested by a foreign government such as Turkey.

Bob Corker, one of Senate foreign relations committee member briefed on U.S. intelligence on the case said,"It does appear that he's been murdered, and I think over the next several days, things are going to become much clearer".

A critic of the Saudi regime living in self-imposed exile in the U.S., Khashoggi has not been seen since that day. When he was asked whether the writer's disappearance could put those ties in jeopardy, Trump said: "I have to find out what happened".

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a longtime critic of the Saudi government, said he'll try to force a vote in the Senate this week blocking USA arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Karen Elliott House, a veteran writer on Saudi affairs and chairwoman of the board of trustees at RAND Corp., said US support for the Yemen war is likely to be the focus of congressional criticism but won't endanger a relationship that has endured for decades, underpinned by shared strategic interests.

It's not clear that US officials have seen the footage or listened to the audio, but Turkish officials have described their contents to their American counterparts.

Even before Khashoggi's disappearance, lawmakers had soured on a Saudi government they view as having a high-handed attitude. We're working with Turkey, we're working with Saudi Arabia.

The Khashoggi incident might make it very hard for the Trump administration to win congressional approval for arms sales to the Saudis.

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