How Might Trump Administration Respond To Khashoggi's Confirmed Death?

Oct 19, 2018
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now let's bring in NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith to talk about how the president might respond to tonight's developments. Hey there, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: What has been the reaction so far from the White House?

KEITH: Well, so President Trump has just wrapped up. He held a roundtable at an Air Force base with a bunch of defense contractors actually. And he answered some questions. He was asked if he found the Saudi explanation credible. He said he did. He said that it was a horrible event that hasn't gone unnoticed but that what Saudi Arabia has come out with is, quote, "a good first step." He also praised Saudi Arabia for moving faster than he expected and for detaining suspects.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They've been a great ally in the Middle East. We need them as a counterbalance to Iran. And so it's not the simplest solution. It's not the simplest situation to be in. But I think we're doing very well. I think we've come a long way in a short period of time. And it will get solved.

KEITH: Yeah, so earlier he was asked - earlier in the day whether sanctions could be on the table. And he said that they could, but he was sort of noncommittal about that.

KELLY: What you're describing is the line that the president has been toeing for a while - that we need to, he says, consider this incident with Jamal Khashoggi in the wider context of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

KEITH: Exactly. And sitting at a roundtable with a bunch of defense contractors presented him with quite a backdrop and...

KELLY: Since he's said these Saudi arms deals are really, really important to the U.S., too, yeah.

KEITH: Right. And so it was exactly - I don't think it was planned that way, but it was sort of perfectly aligned with the talking points that he's been using for, well, basically ever since Khashoggi disappeared, which is that although this is very serious and very problematic, he's saying, hey, hold on; there are arms deals, and we can't mess with that. In his remarks today, he sort of really inflated the size of those deals or the number of jobs that would be potentially created. Many of those deals are not, as you would say, done deals. But he treated them as though they were.

KELLY: Still, he has also said that if Saudi Arabia was ultimately proven to be responsible, that there should be severe punishment - his words. What options might be on the table?

KEITH: Well, he says that he wants to work with Congress on that. And the options could include sanctions. And sanctions could take many forms. They could be severe sanctions, or they could be more symbolic. But as deferential as President Trump is being or not coming out hard yet on Saudi Arabia, some of his allies are going in another direction. Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina tweeted, to say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi's - is an understatement. He says he's - it's hard to find this latest explanation credible.

KELLY: Well, at least one senator so far saying it. It might well be time to take a harder line. We'll see where that goes. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.