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Trump says no ‘financial interest’ in Saudi Arabia, but billions in US-Saudi ties are at stake

Trump says no ‘financial interest’ in Saudi Arabia, but billions in US-Saudi ties are at stake
Donald Trump has dismissed as “fake news” that he has financial interests in Saudi Arabia, amid heated tensions over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But there are billions of dollars tying Riyadh to Washington.

“For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter),” the US president tweeted on Wednesday.

The tweet comes after Trump sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh on Tuesday for a crisis meeting with the Saudi king Salman. The visit follows allegations that the kingdom sent a hit squad to Istanbul to either kill or kidnap Khashoggi, a critic of the regime who had been living in exile.

Trump has so far backed his Saudi allies in their denial that any foul play was involved, suggesting to press on Monday that it was possible Khashoggi's disappearance was the work of “rogue killers.”

Trump’s reluctance to employ his ‘talk tough’ routine with the Saudis has led many to accuse Washington of putting its financial dealings with the kingdom over the suspected murder of a journalist and over growing humanitarian concerns over the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

Multi-billion-dollar weapons sales offer one reason for his light touch on the Saudis’ growing list of misadventures.

$9 billion worth of arms –18% of total US arms sales– were delivered to the kingdom from US defense firms between 2013 and 2017, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Trump has also spoken of even greater arms deals with the Saudis, praising ambitions to add a further $110 billion worth of US arms to their arsenals during his first overseas trip in 2017.

While State Department contracts since Trump’s visit to the kingdom last year has so far only accounted for $4 billion in new deals, continued arms exports form a key part of his domestic jobs agenda.

READ MORE: ‘Shooting blanks’: Trump’s $110bn arms deal with Saudis mostly speculative – report

On Saturday, Trump said the US would be “punishing” itself if it were to halt arms sales to the kingdom, adding that potential sales combined with Saudi commitments to invest heavily in the US, was worth hundreds of thousands of US jobs. 

But conflicts of interest may also lie closer to home. While not personally involved in its daily operations, Trump’s son-in-law and presidential advisor Jared Kushner partly owns a real-estate startup which sought $100 million in investment from a private fund backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier this year.

Trump himself has even boasted about his pre-election business dealings with the Saudis. Telling a campaign rally in 2015:

“Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

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