US President Donald Trump has reiterated his support for Saudi Arabia at a “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) rally where he also described a negotiation tactic he used to get more money from the kingdom for the United States‘ military support.
During a rally with his supporters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Trump indicated that he would remain a steadfast supporter of the Saudi government, largely due to Riyadh’s purchases from US companies.
“They have nothing but cash, right?” he told the crowd. “They buy a lot from us, $450 billion they bought.”
“You had people wanting to cut off Saudi Arabia … I don’t want to lose them,” he said.
It’s unclear where Trump drew the $450bn figure from. PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, has previously rated the claim as “Pants on Fire”.
Trump then described a recent phone call with Saudi King Salman in which he demanded more money from the oil-rich nation in exchange for the defence the US provides.
“We lose $4.5 billion on a country to defend them, and they’re rich,” Trump said.
“So I called them. I said: listen, no good. They were in a state of shock because they’ve never got a call like this in 25 years, right,” he said as the crowd cheered.
Trump went on: “I said we’re losing $4.5 billion every year, we can’t do this anymore. This is crazy. He [King Salman] got very upset, angry, said this is not fair. I said, of course, this is fair. He said we’ll give you $500 million more … I said I want more. We argued. So they paid us more than $500 million for one phone call, it took me one call.”
He said the king then asked him why he was calling, because “nobody had made such a call”.
“That’s because they were stupid!” Trump said.
US-Saudi ties have faced increased criticism since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Khashoggi, a longtime royal insider who had become a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), was killed and his body dismembered by a Saudi team, Turkey has alleged.
The murder prompted a global outcry, with several countries imposing an arms embargo on the kingdom in light of the controversy.
But Trump stood with the Saudi leadership.
At the time of the murder, Trump said: “If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries, and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business.
“It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States.”
In November, the CIA concluded that MBS, the de facto ruler and heir to the Saudi throne, ordered the assassination.
Saudi authorities have strongly denied the claim, and in private conversations with Western officials have instead criticised Turkish authorities for failing to stop the murder.
“Their intelligence knew that a (Saudi) hit squad was coming. They could have stopped them!” one of them quoted a Saudi official as saying.