President Donald Trump called Saudi Arabia’s announcement of arrests in the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi a “good first step.”
Yet, he added that considers what happened to the writer to be “unacceptable.”
The president also said he would work with Congress on the matter, but that he would prefer not to hurt U.S. companies and jobs by cutting billions of dollars in arms sales to the kingdom. Trump has boasted of $110 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, although the transactions have yet to come to fruition.
Trump said that he wants to talk to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman before the next steps in the process.
Through its state press, Saudi Arabia said arrested 18 Saudi nationals after preliminary investigations linked them to the Khashoggi case.
The president said the death of Khashoggi was a “horrible event” that has not gone “unnoticed.”
Trump spoke during a defense roundtable in Arizona, where he was set to hold a political rally. His remarks followed Saudi Arabia’s announcement confirming that Khashoggi had indeed been killed.
However, the kingdom said the journalist and critic of the Saudi royal family was killed during an altercation with Saudi operatives at the nation’s consulate in Istanbul.
This account is vastly different from previously leaked stories that said Khashoggi was tortured and dismembered. Media reports said that the team who allegedly killed Khashoggi included men linked to the Saudi crown prince, who has denied involvement in the matter.
The White House said in a statement it would continue to press for “justice that is timely, transparent, and in accordance with all due process.”
Trump told reporters Friday that he found the Saudi explanation to be credible. However, many others, including Trump ally and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, weren’t buying the latest story.
Republican Senator Rand Paul tweeted: “We should also halt all military sales, aid and cooperation immediately. There must be a severe price for these actions by Saudi Arabia.”
Democratic Senator Jack Reed, the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Saudis were still not coming clean with the truth.
“This appears to have been a deliberate, planned act followed by a cover up,” he said in a statement. “You don’t bring 15 men and a bone saw to a fist fight with a 60 year old.”
— The Associated Press, Reuters and CNBC’s Christine Wang and Amanda Macias contributed to this article.