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Saudi Arabia

Pompeo meets Saudi king and crown prince for talks about missing journalist

Top official at Istanbul’s Saudi consulate, the last place Jamal Khashoggi was seen, left Turkey just hours after police said they would search his home as part of probe into disappearance of journalist

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018, 6:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2018, 12:35pm

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told top US diplomat Mike Pompeo that they are “strong and old allies”, during talks on Tuesday about missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Both men were seen smiling and exchanging pleasantries before a closed-door meeting to discuss the case of Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and US resident, who was last seen entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

Turkish officials have said they believe he was killed inside – a claim Saudi Arabia has denied. Ankara said on Tuesday the Saudi consul flew back to Riyadh just hours after police announced they would be searching his home as part of their investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Police who searched the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Monday found evidence Khashoggi was killed there, a high-level Turkish official said later.

The US State Department said the prince told Pompeo he was committed to a thorough and transparent investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance, repeating an earlier pledge from King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

“We are strong and old allies. We face our challenges together – the past, the day of, tomorrow,” the prince said.

The US secretary of state was in the Saudi capital after President Donald Trump speculated “rogue killers” may be responsible and dispatched him to hold “face to face meetings with the Saudi leadership” about Khashoggi.

As Pompeo’s meeting with the prince was going on, Trump fired out a tweet about financial links to the kingdom – an issue seemingly unrelated to the disappearance of the journalist: “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!”

Pompeo first met King Salman, said reporters travelling with him.

“I hope you are comfortable here,” the king told Pompeo, according to reporters. Pompeo responded: “Thank you for accepting my visit on behalf of President Trump.”

After the meeting, Pompeo had talks with al-Jubeir, according to reporters travelling with the envoy.

“The two were chatting amicably when we walked in, then they stopped talking and sat in silence until we left,” one of the reporters said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said of the meeting: “The secretary and the foreign minister agreed on the importance of a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation.”

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But US Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican close to Trump, on Tuesday accused the prince – who he referred to by his initials MBS – of ordering the murder of Khashoggi and called him a “wrecking ball” who is jeopardising relations with the US.

“Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MBS knowing it,” he said in an interview with Fox News. “I’ve been their biggest defender on the floor of the United States Senate. This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey and to expect me to ignore it. I feel used and abused. The MBS figure is to me toxic. He can never be a world leader on the world stage.”

Pompeo is flying to Turkey for talks with officials on Wednesday.

Soon after Pompeo arrived, the United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on Saudi Arabia and Turkey to reveal all information about the disappearance and Khashoggi’s possible murder and said immunity should be lifted on Saudi officials in Turkey.

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“In view of the seriousness of the situation surrounding the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi, I believe the inviolability or immunity of the relevant premises and officials bestowed by treaties such as the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations should be waived immediately,” she said in a statement.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and leading critic of Prince Mohammed, vanished after visiting the consulate to get marriage documents. Turkish officials say they believe he was murdered there and his body removed.

“The effort behind the scenes is focused on avoiding a diplomatic crisis between the two countries and has succeeded in finding a pathway to de-escalate tensions,” said Ayham Kamel, head of the Eurasia Group’s Mideast and North African practice. “Riyadh will have to provide some explanation of the journalist’s disappearance, but in a manner that distances the leadership from any claim that a decision was made at senior levels to assassinate the prominent journalist.”

The meetings in Riyadh came just hours after a Turkish forensics team finished a search inside the Saudi consulate, looking for evidence of the columnist’s alleged killing and dismemberment.

Police plan a second search at the Saudi consul’s home in Istanbul, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said, where leaked surveillance video shows diplomatic cars went soon after Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Not long after that was revealed, Saudi Consul Mohammed al-Otaibi flew out of the country.

Turkish media quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying police were searching for “toxic materials” and suggesting parts of the consulate had recently been painted.

During the search, CNN and The New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia was preparing to acknowledge Khashoggi’s death in a botched interrogation, after denying for two weeks any role in his disappearance.

Trump has threatened “severe punishment” if it turns out Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, but ruled out cancelling arms deals worth tens of billions of dollars. European allies have urged accountability for those responsible.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press