WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Thursday that he believes the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, and he expressed confidence in intelligence reports from multiple sources that strongly suggest a high-level Saudi role in Mr. Khashoggi’s assassination.
Mr. Trump stopped short of saying the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death. But the president acknowledged that the allegations that the prince ordered the killing raised deep questions about the American alliance with Saudi Arabia and had ignited one of the most serious foreign policy crises of his presidency.
“This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately,” Mr. Trump said to reporters from The New York Times in a brief interview in the Oval Office. “It’s not a positive. Not a positive.”
“Unless the miracle of all miracles happens, I would acknowledge that he’s dead,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s based on everything — intelligence coming from every side.”
A short time later, Mr. Trump reiterated to reporters at Joint Base Andrews that he believed Mr. Khashoggi is dead, and said “this is bad, bad stuff and the consequences should be severe.”
The Times interview occurred after the president was briefed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Mr. Pompeo had pressed officials from both countries during the trip about the fate of Mr. Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and a columnist for The Washington Post, who vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Turkish officials said he was brutally killed and his body dismembered by a team of operatives sent from Saudi Arabia. In phone calls with Mr. Trump, Mr. Pompeo and other top American officials, Prince Mohammed and other Saudi leaders have denied any involvement.
Mr. Pompeo said on Thursday that the United States would give the Saudis a few more days to conduct their investigation.
Mr. Trump said it was still “a little bit early” in the process to draw definitive conclusions about who ordered the killing. But he expressed no doubts that the truth would come out. “We’re working with the intelligence from numerous countries,” he said.
“This is the best intelligence we could have,” Mr. Trump added.
Intelligence reports have drawn direct links between the Saudi operatives who traveled to Istanbul and the Saudi royal court. Four of the operatives, whose images were caught on surveillance video, served as guards for Prince Mohammed in April during his visit to the United States.
Mr. Trump was uncharacteristically guarded and disciplined during the brief conversation with The Times, declining repeated requests to discuss the chain of events that led to Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance or the crown prince’s role.
In part, the president acknowledged, that reflected his recognition that the Khashoggi case now posed a bigger challenge to him than other issues “because it’s taken on a bigger life than it would normally take on.”
Still, Mr. Trump emphasized the value of the alliance with Saudi Arabia to American military contractors and other firms. “They’ve been a very good ally and they’ve bought massive amounts of various things and investments in this country, which I appreciate,” he said.