President Donald Trump said Thursday he is "probably getting closer" to finding out what happened to vanished journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose alleged disappearance in Turkey last week at a Saudi Arabian consulate has stirred renewed tensions over the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who had been living in exile in the United States and writing for The Washington Post, did not appear to leave the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after entering it to finalize divorce paperwork so he could marry his fiancee. Khashoggi has been a vocal critic of the Saudi royal family, and his whereabouts, as well as whether he is still alive, have been the subject of much speculation in the days since his disappearance.
Trump and other administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have been public in their demands that the Saudi government offer answers regarding Khashoggi’s and be transparent in the investigatory process. But the White House has come under criticism from some who have argued its response to Khashoggi’s disappearance has not been strong enough.
"I have to find out what happened," Trump told the Fox News morning show "Fox & Friends" on Thursday, when asked about possible repercussions for Saudi Arabia. "We’re probably getting closer than you might think, but I have to find out what happened."
"We don’t like it. I don’t like it. No good," Trump added.
Saudi Arabia has roundly denied any allegations that Khashoggi died inside its consulate, although the Saudi government has yet to produce video backing up its claim that the journalist left the consulate through a back door and has yet to make good on its promise to allow Turkish authorities to search the building.
During his interview, Trump said relations with Saudi Arabia were "excellent," boasting that the Middle Eastern kingdom benefits from U.S. protection. Trump also brokered a nearly $110 billion defense agreement with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in May 2017.
"Saudi Arabia is a very rich country. And for years and years, there would be no Saudi Arabia if there wasn’t a United States, because we protected them," Trump said.
Trump appeared reluctant to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia if its officials are found to be responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance. A Washington, D.C.-based analyst told POLITICO on Wednesday that "If the Saudis don’t come up with a credible answer to this, they’re done in this town."