President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he expects answers about the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – but he also insists that he has no plan to tear up an arms sales deal his administration spearheaded last year because it would cost the United States jobs.
“I don’t want to lose all of that investment being made into our country. I don’t want to lose a million jobs, I don’t want to lose $110 billion dollars in terms of investment,” Trump told reporters outside the White House on Monday. “But it’s really $450 billion if you include other than military. So that’s very important.”
Trump’s comments echoed his claims over the weekend about the number of jobs at stake in the nearly $110 billion defense deal signed during his visit to Saudi Arabia last year.
Initially, he said it would create 450,000 jobs. Then, four days later, he said in an interview with Fox Business that the deal would create 500,000 jobs.
Trump’s claim grew to 600,000 on Friday and by Saturday he said 1 million American jobs rely on all Saudi investments, which total $450 billion.
“That’s not helpful for us to cancel an order like that. That hurts us far more than that hurts them,” Trump said on Saturday.
Any of those jobs numbers are bigger than what the State Department estimated when the deal was announced last year. The package, it said, could potentially support “tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States.”
Adding hundreds of thousands of new jobs would mean significant growth for the aerospace and defense industry. Overall, it directly employed 845,000 people in 2016, according to an estimate by the Aerospace Industries Association. Just 355,500 of those jobs were supported by the defense and national security sector, which generated $147 billion in sales that year.
The President has reiterated his commitment to maintaining the deal even as some in his own party turn away. Two Republican senators said Sunday that the United States should consider ending Saudi arms sales.
Saudi Arabia admitted the death of Khashoggi on Friday, claiming he died in a fistfight at the country’s consulate in Istanbul. Trump said he would work with Congress to develop a response to Khashoggi’s death, but said that he didn’t want sanctions to affect US arms sales to the kingdom.
It could be years before the real impact of the 2017 arms deal is known. It was merely a memorandum of intent to fulfill nearly $110 billion in arms sales over the next 10 years.
To date, Saudi Arabia has only completed $14.5 billion in purchases.
But job creation isn’t the only reason the United States brokers arms deals with other countries. They also help sustain relationships and align security policies around the world.
The Saudi deal aims to support the long-term security of country and the region “in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian related threats,” the State Department said.
“We don’t do arms sales for the purposes of the profits from arms sales. We do arms sales because we want to be allied with different countries around the globe that believe in our values and have a long-term sense of what we’re up to together and why we have that alliance,” Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, said Sunday.
Trump said he believes Saudi Arabia’s explanation for what happened to Khashoggi, but lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed skepticism. The journalist disappeared after entering the consulate on October 2 to obtain paperwork that would have allowed him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Turkish officials believe Khashoggi was killed soon after he arrived.