OSAKA (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Saturday he appreciated Saudi Arabia’s purchase of U.S. military equipment, calling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a “friend of mine” who had worked to open up the country with economic and social reforms.
Trump’s plan to boost defense sales to the kingdom has hit obstacles in Congress, where Democrats and some fellow Republicans are not happy about human rights abuses, including the murder last year of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“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 ahead of a bilateral meeting with the crown prince.
“I think especially what you’ve done for women and seeing what’s happening - it’s like a revolution in a very positive way,” he added, speaking on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) summit.
“We’re trying to do our best for our country, Saudi Arabia, and it’s a long journey,” the crown prince said.
The Senate this month voted to block the sale of billions of dollars of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries, rejecting Trump’s decision to sidestep Congress’s review of such deals by declaring an emergency over Iran.
Trump has promised to veto the Senate action.
On Saturday, Trump declined to say whether he would address the death of Khashoggi, who was a critic of the crown prince, in his meeting.
The CIA has determined the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing, while a U.N. rights investigator has also said he should be investigated over the murder, saying there was “sufficient credible evidence” of his responsibility.
Saudi officials have denied any involvement.
Critics have said Trump let the Saudis off the hook by expressing doubt in the CIA assessment and arguing that the United States could not risk its alliance with Saudi Arabia because of the threat posed by Iran.
The United States has blamed Iran for recent attacks on oil tankers in Gulf shipping lanes, which the Unites States is working with Saudi Arabia and other allies to protect.
Trump said Saudi purchases of military equipment supported at least 1 million U.S. jobs, and appeared to exonerate the kingdom for any past acts of “terror”.
“For a long time there were questions as to whether or not Saudi Arabia and other countries were sponsoring terror,” said Trump, as he sat next to the crown prince.
“You have absolutely stopped and I really appreciate that and the world really appreciates it,” Trump said.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim