On Tuesday evening, a group of foreign policy figures attended a dinner with a senior White House official with responsibility for the Middle East. The official kept stressing that the U.S. had significant long-term interests in Saudi Arabia and repeatedly noted that Iran is a top threat, several attendees told POLITICO on condition that some of the details about the event be kept private.
When asked about Khashoggi, the official said the U.S. is still trying to get information about what happened, a statement many in the audience found absurd given that Khashoggi disappeared a week earlier and detailed reports had emerged in the media. The official said nothing about the administration being prepared to hold the Saudis accountable for what happened.
Several foreign policy specialists say the anecdote shows that the Trump administration hopes this crisis will blow over the same way other thorny dilemmas involving Saudi Arabia have in recent years. After all, the White House sees the conservative Muslim country as too important an ally in the Middle East — and in Trump’s anti-Iran strategy — to penalize, or even criticize, in any major way. It’s a hands-off approach critics say has enabled the Saudi leadership’s worst instincts.