Evangelical leader: Not worth risking ties with Saudi Arabia over missing journalist

A prominent evangelical leader told viewers to “cool down the tempers of those who are screaming blood for the Saudis” and not risk a $100 billion arms deal over the apparent death of Saudi-born journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

Appearing on Christian television show "The 700 Club," Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, said America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is too important to risk.

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“These people are key allies,” Robertson said Monday on the show, first reported by Right Wing Watch. “I don’t think on this issue we need pull sanctions and get tough. I just think it’s a mistake.”

Robertson advocated for behind-the-scenes diplomacy instead of publicly leveling harsh sanctions. He repeatedly invoked the more-than-$100-billion arms deal between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. as reason not to go after the country widely viewed as the culprit behind Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“We’ve got an arms deal that everybody wanted a piece of,” he said. “It’ll be a lot of jobs, a lot of money come to our coffers. It’s not something you want to blow up willy-nilly.”

In a statement, CBN said Robertson has also been critical of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his program, and that left-wing blogs were leaving that out of their commentary on him.

Over the last several days, Dr. Robertson has offered commentary about Saudi Arabia, warning that America should not completely destroy the relationship with our biggest ally against America's biggest enemy," CBN said in a statement.

"What the left-wing blogs did not report were Dr. Robertson's statements critical of Bin Salman, where he stated that Bin Salman appears to be the one ultimately responsible for the murder, and the King of Saudi Arabia should hold his son accountable," the statement reads. "Dr. Robertson was appalled by the killing, however he, along with other leaders in America, remain committed to keeping this critical relationship with Saudi Arabia in the fight against Iran."

In a later appearance on the program on Tuesday, Robertson called for a cooling of rhetoric and said that  Iran — not Saudi Arabia — is the biggest threat in the Middle East and should be treated as such.

He said leveling harsh punishment on Saudi Arabia would alienate a key ally in the region.

Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and longtime critic of the royal family, was a permanent resident of the United States, working for the past year as a columnist for The Washington Post.

Khashoggi disappeared two weeks ago while visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to receive documents for his marriage.

Previously, Robertson called for stricter gun control laws following the deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla.

--Updated Friday at 9:42 a.m.