WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he saw no reason to block Saudi Arabian investments in the United States despite concern over a missing Saudi journalist, saying the Gulf nation would then just move its money into Russia and China.
Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, also said the United States was expecting a report soon on the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, but gave no other details.
“They’re (the Saudis) spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs ... for this country. I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States, because you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else,” Trump said.
Trump’s comments prompted pushback from members of the U.S. Senate, including from some of his fellow Republicans, many of whom signed a letter on Wednesday forcing his administration to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance and paving the way to possible sanctions on Saudi officials.
“If it’s found that they murdered a journalist, that will hugely change our relationship,” Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters at the Capitol.
“If it turns out to be what we all think it is today but don’t know, there will have to be significant sanctions placed at the highest levels,” Corker said.
Corker and other lawmakers also said it would be very difficult for the Trump administration to win congressional approval for arms sales to the Saudis. Many lawmakers, including some Republicans, have already questioned U.S. support for Saudi’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, which has prompted a humanitarian crisis.
Under U.S. law, major foreign sales of military equipment can be blocked by Congress. There is also an informal process in which key lawmakers, including the Foreign Relations chairman and ranking Democrat, can put “holds” on arm sales.
Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the committee, has already placed a hold on a major sale of Raytheon (RTN.N) precision-guided munitions, out of concerns they could be used to kill Yemeni civilians.
Menendez, who led the letter to Trump with Corker, said he felt the sale would be blocked if it were to go ahead despite his hold. “I think there’s a growing sense that it has to be a message to the Saudis,” he told reporters.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Jeff Mason, Richard Cowan and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Alistair Bell