on Friday praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as “a friend of mine,” despite concerns about the young leader among U.S. lawmakers and international officials.
“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 during a working breakfast with the Saudi leader in Osaka, Japan, at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit.
The president did not respond to shouted questions from reporters about whether he would confront the crown prince about the killing of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. U.S. lawmakers and international officials have said the crown prince directed the killing of the journalist, who resided in Virginia.
Instead, Trump credited the crown prince for doing a “spectacular job,” citing reforms that benefit women in the long-restrictive kingdom.
The White House said in a statement that the two leaders discussed Saudi Arabia’s role in ensuring stability in the Middle East, global oil markets and the threat from Iran. They also touched on trade and “the importance of human rights issues.”
Tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have simmered since last year’s killing of Khashoggi, a U.S-based Saudi journalist.
Lawmakers expressed outrage about the killing of the columnist, who was a critic of Saudi leadership. The Trump administration failed to meet a deadline to issue a report to Congress on who was responsible for Khashoggi’s death, while many lawmakers have accused the crown prince of directing the killing.
A recent United Nations report laid out in extensive detail the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
In a rebuke to Saudi leadership, the Senate last week voted to block Trump’s arms deal with the Kingdom, setting up a potential veto from the White House. The House still needs to vote on the legislation, which involves more than $8 billion in total arms sales.
In addition, lawmakers in both chambers of Congress are moving forward with separate legislation that would penalize Saudi Arabia or handcuff the president in doing business with the Middle Eastern nation.
Still, Trump has sought to maintain strong ties with Saudi leadership. He noted in the aftermath of the killing that the crown prince had denied involvement in Khashoggi’s death, and the president has repeatedly cited the strong economic ties between the two nations.
Trump and the crown prince stood next to each other for a group photo a day earlier at the G-20. They were assigned where to stand, but the two men laughed and exchanged pleasantries, creating an awkward dynamic given recent tensions.
Updated at 11:15 p.m.