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Trump's political flip-flop on Khashoggi’s disappearance emboldening Riyadh: Analysts 

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A demonstrator dressed as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) with blood on his hands demonstrates with others outside the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, on October 8, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

As international pressure is mounting on Saudi rulers by various governments and rights group over disappearance of a dissident journalist at the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul, Trump's administration still seems to be following an undetermined policy toward Riyadh on this issue, prompting many analysts to believe that Washington prefers Saudi trade over the value of human life.

In a new turn of events on Sunday, Saudi Arabia warned it would retaliate against any sanctions imposed on it over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, as the Riyadh stock market suffered its worst plunge in years.

According to the kingdom’s official SPA news agency, Riyadh said it would retaliate in case any possible economic sanctions were taken by other states over the case of Jamal Khashoggi in what has been seen as an allusion to calls on the US administration for revoking its hefty arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Other countries have also threatened sharp reactions to possible killing of Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia with the latest instance being remarks by Britain's opposition Labour Party, which announced that it would stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia if it was in government.

The Tadawul exchange in Riyadh dropped by 7 percent at one point during the week’s first day of trading, with 182 of its 186 listed stocks showing losses by the early afternoon. The market clawed back some of the losses, trading down over 4 percent later on.

The new development came after Trump said in a rally speech in Richmond, Kentucky, on Sunday that the United States would be “punishing itself” if it halted weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

“I actually think we’d be punishing ourselves if we did that,” Trump told reporters on Saturday at the White House, adding, “There are other things we can do that are very, very powerful, very strong and we’ll do them.” 

His Sunday remarks came in sharp contrast to what the American president had said only a day earlier on Saturday, when he vowed "severe punishment" if Saudi Arabia is proven to be behind the purported assassination of Khashoggi.

While senators threaten Saudi Arabia with sanctions and major business players pull out of a conference the Saudis are hosting, the Trump administration is taking an increasingly conspicuous wait-and-see approach to the disappearance of Khashoggi.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have demanded firm action. Earlier this week, a number of Republican senators on the foreign relations committee signed a bipartisan letter calling for a probe and possible sanctions in response to Khashoggi's disappearance.  

American lawmakers in both parties have been more critical of Saudi Arabia, with several suggesting officials in the kingdom could be sanctioned if they were found to be involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged killing.

There was already mounting concern over civilian deaths caused by a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen and some lawmakers have said Washington should block military sales to Riyadh if the allegations over Khashoggi are proven.

Trump, however, has been hesitant to criticize the Saudis, despite strong words from some in his own party. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican ally of the president in the Senate, said there will be "hell to pay" if Khashoggi is found dead and the Saudis are responsible.

Khashoggi's disappearance has forced questions about the Trump administration's relationship with Saudi Arabia into the spotlight.

Trump made a point of visiting the kingdom on his first overseas trip as president and has touted arms sales to Saudi Arabia. But both the White House and the kingdom are under mounting pressure as concern grows over the fate of the veteran journalist.

The selection of Saudi Arabia, as CBS News' chief White House correspondent Major Garrett documents in his book "Mr. Trump's Wild Ride," bucked prior presidents' habit of first visiting a more traditional US ally, and signaled that the administration wanted to put a greater emphasis on good relations with Riyadh. 

Pressed this week about the Khashoggi situation, Trump stopped short of criticizing or threatening Saudi Arabia. "We don't like it, we don't like it a little bit," Trump said of the Khashoggi situation Thursday.

Trump has also restated his reluctance to jeopardize a $110 billion arms deal he brokered with Saudi Arabia that was inked on his first foreign trip as President, saying he didn't want to hurt jobs. But he added, "There are other ways of punishing, to use a word that's a pretty harsh word, but it's true."

Mark Dankof, a former US Senate candidate, said in an interview with Press TV on Saturday that Trump is “playing games” with regard to the disappearance of a dissident Saudi journalist at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

A closed-circuit TV image of Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018.

“President Trump is simply playing games at this point, he knows very well, his intelligence people know very well that the Saudis are behind Khashoggi’s abduction and probable assassination,” Mark Dankof, a former US Senate candidate, told Press TV on Saturday.

“But the president is fully aware of other Saudi crimes, which the United States is fully complicit in, I’m referring to the Saudi support for the Sunni Wahhabi terrorists in Syria,” as well as “the genocidal war that Saudi Arabia has conducted in Yemen,” added the analyst.

“It’s very clear that the president couldn’t care less about Saudi crimes,” noting that he has already said “the US would continue to sell the $100 billion of weaponry.”

According to Daniel Patrick Welch, an American writer and political analyst,  Trump’s cynical and heartless reaction on dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s apparent assassination is in line with everything that the Empire stands for and has done. 

“I don’t think anyone should be surprised by the cynical and heartless reaction of the Trump regime to Khashoggi’s assassination,” Welch said in an interview with Press TV on Friday. 

Khashoggi's case highlights how much is at stake in US-Saudi relations, and in the president's own ties to the Saudis. 

The US has had a long and tricky relationship with Saudi Arabia, a key regional ally with an infamous record of human rights abuses. But it was Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner who paved the way for the cozy relationship between the administration and bin Salman. Kushner and the crown prince dined at the White House in March 2017, and they met again in Riyadh in October 2017. 

Asked Friday if it was a mistake for Kushner to develop such close relationships with the Saudis, the president said no, and the US  has close relationships with many countries — but this is a serious problem. 

The president's own businesses have also benefited from transactions with the Saudis. And while Trump has stepped away from the day-to-day management of those businesses, which are now run by his two older sons, he never fully divested from them. 

According to disclosures filed with the Justice Department, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia disbursed $270,000 for payments that went to Trump International Hotel between October 2016 and March 2017.

 And earlier this year, the general manager of the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan shared with investors that after two years of decline, revenue from room rentals went up 13 percent in the first quarter of 2018 — largely due to a visit from bin Salman. 

The Saudis were boosting Trump businesses long before he took office. According to Trump's own words, the Saudis have long been heavily invested in Trump's businesses. 

"Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them," Trump said at the time. "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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