OSAKA, Japan — President Donald Trump enjoyed breakfast here Friday with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, heaping praise on the Saudi ruler while ignoring evidence of his role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The crown prince had faced some isolation at last year’s G20 summit in Buenos Aires after being implicated in the grisly murder of the Washington Post columnist and legal resident of the U.S., who disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.
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But Trump has largely ignored the evidence, including a conclusion by the Central Intelligence Agency, that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing.
At a news conference on Saturday, Trump said he did raise the killing privately with the crown prince, who told him about 13 people who had been prosecuted for the crime.
“He’s very angry about it,” he said. “He’s very unhappy about it.”
But Trump did not indicate that he confronted the crown prince over his own complicity. And when pressed about the CIA’s conclusion at the news conference, Trump responded, “I can’t comment on the intelligence community. I guess I’m allowed to declassify … but the truth is I don’t want to talk about intelligence.”
It wasn’t the first time Trump has declined to confirm or deny the CIA’s assessment, which has been shared with U.S. lawmakers and administration officials.
“I’m extremely angry and unhappy about a thing like that taking place,” Trump said. “But as of this moment, more than 13 people are being prosecuted, and I hear the numbers are going to be going up.“
Earlier, before their breakfast at the Imperial Hotel in Osaka, Trump and Prince Mohammed ignored at least two questions about Khashoggi’s death.
“Mr. President, will you discuss Jamal Khashoggi?”
Trump instead answered a question about his plans to visit the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un.
“Mr. President, will [you] address the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, sir, with the crown prince?”
Trump instead answered a question about his plans to discuss the technology company Huawei with President Xi Jinping of China, saying it would be part of their talks on trade.
Trump also did not raise the issue of Khashoggi’s murder in his opening remarks.
A United Nations report last week found there was “credible evidence” to warrant further investigation into allegations the crown prince masterminded the killing. “No conclusion is made as to guilt,” the report stated, adding, however: “Evidence points to the 15-person mission to execute Mr. Khashoggi requiring significant government coordination, resources and finances.“
In his remarks, Trump proclaimed his admiration for the crown prince, declaring that it was an honor to be in his company.
“It’s an honor to be with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, a friend of mine, a man who has really done things in the last five years in terms of opening up Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “And I think especially what you’ve done for women. I’m seeing what’s happening; it’s like a revolution in a very positive way.”
Trump continued, “I want to just thank you on behalf of a lot of people, and I want to congratulate you. You’ve done, really, a spectacular job.”
Saudi Arabia will host next year’s G20 summit, which gave Prince Mohammed a prominent place at the front and center of this year’s “family photo” of leaders on Thursday.
Trump posed alongside Prince Mohammed, who greeted him with a warm smile, a robust handshake and a pat on the hand. Trump and the prince spoke together during the photo shoot, gesturing actively, and the two men continued to talk as they walked off the platform together.
At the Imperial Hotel, before breakfast, Trump insisted that it was his good relationships that were keeping the United States safe and free from conflicts.
“We have a very good friendship,” Trump said of China. “We have a very, very good friendship, like I have with Mohammed. I mean, we have a great — a great relationship, and that’s very important, especially when you have a place like — whether it’s Saudi Arabia, in all fairness, or China, or any country. Or any country. Or North Korea. It’s about relationship. Otherwise, you end up in very bad wars and lots of problems. The relationship is very important.”
Anita Kumar contributed reporting.