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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/21/18

Trump Chooses "Relationship with Saudi Arabia" over Accountability for Jamal Khashoggi's Murder

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Despite overwhelming evidence that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated at the order of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, President Trump stood by Saudi Arabia Tuesday in an extraordinary written statement riddled with exclamation points and subtitled "America First," writing, "It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event -- maybe he did and maybe he didn't! That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

Trump's statement came even after The Washington Post reported last Friday that the CIA has "high confidence" that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Jamal Khashoggi's murder. Saudi officials have tried to dismiss Khashoggi's death as a rare, unauthorized killing, but a recent New York Times report suggests the kingdom has sought out private companies to assassinate perceived enemies since the beginning of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's rule.

We speak with the Israeli investigative reporter who helped break the story, Ronen Bergman, author of "Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations." Ronen Bergman is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and the senior national security correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth. His piece in The New York Times is titled "Saudis Close to Crown Prince Discussed Killing Other Enemies a Year Before Khashoggi's Death."

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Despite overwhelming evidence that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated at the order of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, President Trump stood by Saudi Arabia Tuesday in an extraordinary written statement riddled with exclamation points and subtitled "America First," writing, quote, "It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event -- maybe he did and maybe he didn't! That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." Trump's statement came even after The Washington Post reported last Friday that the CIA has "high confidence" that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination. Despite this, Trump repeated Saudi claims that Khashoggi was an "enemy of the state" and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is Trump speaking to reporters Tuesday.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm not going to destroy the world economy, and I'm not going to destroy the economy for our country, by being foolish with Saudi Arabia. ... This is about America first. They're paying us $400 billion-plus to purchase and invest in our country. That's probably the biggest amount ever paid to the United States. This is over a long period of time. It means hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of investment and product.

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JUAN GONZALEZ: Trump's claims that Saudi Arabia is investing $400 billion in the United States is false. A new report from the Center for International Policy found investment from Riyadh is responsible for fewer than 20,000 U.S. jobs a year and just a fraction of the investment cited by Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: Saudi officials have tried to dismiss journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death as a rare, unauthorized killing, but a recent New York Times report suggests the kingdom has sought out private companies to assassinate perceived enemies since the beginning of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's rule. Last week, the Times reported top Saudi intelligence officials close to bin Salman considered a $2 billion plan to hire private intelligence operatives to assassinate prominent Iranians, for example.

Well, for more, we go to Tel Aviv, Israel, where we're joined by an Israeli investigative reporter who helped break the story, Ronen Bergman. He has just written an exhaustive new book on the long, secretive history of Israel's extrajudicial killing program. It's titled Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations. Ronen Bergman is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and senior national security correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's largest daily paid newspaper. His piece in The New York Times is headlined "Saudis Close to Crown Prince Discussed Killing Other Enemies a Year Before Khashoggi's Death."

Ronen Bergman, welcome to Democracy Now! Before we go into the secret history of Israel's --

RONEN BERGMAN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: -- targeted assassinations, let's talk about this latest news, President Trump standing before reporters and explaining why he will continue to side with Saudi Arabia and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, despite the CIA saying it's clear that Khashoggi was killed on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's orders. Can you respond to this and talk about the history of Saudi Arabia and assassination?

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RONEN BERGMAN: Sure. Thank you, Amy and Juan, for inviting me to the show. I think that what President Trump just did was the highest level of what the French call realpolitik. He took one interest of the United States, as he sees it at least, to have these huge deals, or alleged huge deal, with the Saudi Arabia government in their funding of huge arms deals, and put this as only one consideration and put aside all the rest -- human rights, the horrific operation to kill a journalist in their territory, in the consulate, the, I would say, very conclusive evidence suggesting that high Saudi officials, if not the crown prince himself, were deeply involved, and said "I just don't care about that." And I think this is -- he's not the first one who did that; we saw that a few times, or many times, in world politics before. But it's really done in a very blunt way.

We have published -- David Kirkpatrick, Mark Mazzetti and myself -- last week in The New York Times the [inaudible] case. This is not [inaudible] operation by one Saudi official, that as early as March 2017, more than a year ago, the Saudis were pitched by a group of businessmen, former operatives of Israeli and American intelligence -- Israeli intelligence and American businessmen, who asked the Saudis to fund a $2 billion project to cripple Iranian economy, so to create something in a sort of a small Iran-Contra affair, to create a huge private intelligence organization that would use black operations to cripple Iranian economy.

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