Khashoggi murder: Donald Trump castigates Saudis for ‘worst cover-up ever’ as US revokes visas
- It is the toughest US action to date against a key Middle East ally
- Donald Trump called the killing a ‘fiasco’
US President Donald Trump said that Saudi officials had engaged in the “worst cover-up ever” after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi earlier this month, as the administration took its first concrete step to penalise Saudi Arabia, revoking visas for its agents implicated in the killing.
That initial penalty was modest, since 18 of the 21 Saudi suspects were already under arrest, and Trump said he would “leave it up to Congress” to determine how best to punish the kingdom for the killing inside its Istanbul consulate.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Tuesday labelled the killing “planned” and “brutal” and called on Saudi Arabia to extradite the detained suspects to Turkey to face justice.
Erdogan’s highly anticipated comments, during a speech to his ruling party in the capital Ankara, contradicted Saudi accounts that Khashoggi was killed when an argument inside the consulate escalated into a fist-fight.
The Turkish leader did not directly accuse the Saudi leadership of involvement in the killing but strongly indicated that the Saudi investigation had not reached high enough into the kingdom’s ruling circles.
“It will not satisfy the public by just pinning this kind of matter on a few security and intelligence officers,” he said.
“Covering up this kind of savagery will hurt the conscience of all humanity.”
Providing several new details, Erdogan described an operation in which Saudi agents removed the hard disk on a consulate camera and one team visited wooded areas in and around Istanbul “for reconnaissance” before the killing.
These were areas that Turkish police later focused on as they searched for Khashoggi’s body.
Speaking in the Oval Office, Trump skewered the Saudis, saying: “They had a very bad original concept, it was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was the worst in the history of cover-ups.”
He added: “In terms of what we ultimately do, I’m going to leave it very much – in conjunction with me – I’m going to leave it up to Congress.”
The State Department said the visa penalties would affect 21 Saudis. Most already have visas, and their documents are being revoked. Some who do not have visas are now ineligible for them, officials said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced the action, said he is also working with the Treasury Department on whether to impose sanctions on those responsible for the journalist’s death.
“These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States,” Pompeo said during a briefing at the State Department.
“We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those responsible accountable.”
The killing of Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, has provoked international outrage over Saudi Arabia’s conduct and raised urgent questions about whether the kingdom’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, was involved in the plot.
Prince Mohammed on Tuesday received a standing ovation when he appeared at a major investment conference in Riyadh – which some Western executives and leaders have withdrawn from because of the controversy – but the crown prince did not address the crowd.
Separately on Tuesday, the official Saudi Press Agency published photos of the Saudi monarch, King Salman, and the crown prince meeting two members of Khashoggi’s family, including his son.
One photo showed the son, Salah, looking ashen-faced and shaking hands with Prince Mohammed as a video cameraman stood in the background.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry wrote on Twitter that the leaders shared “their deepest condolences and sympathy to the family of Jamal Khashoggi, may God rest his soul.”
Khashoggi’s death has tarnished the global reputation of the crown prince, who has eased social restrictions at home while pursuing an unrelenting crackdown on rivals and critics, imprisoning hundreds.
Prince Mohammed has also tried to lure exiled dissidents such as Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia, back to Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi’s friends and other exiles have said.
As Saudi Arabia on Tuesday opened its landmark business conference – part of the crown prince’s plan to diversify the economy and reduce reliance on oil revenue – the country’s foreign ministry released video of him inside a crowd of attendees, posing for a selfie.
Despite the pull-out of several high-profile participants, including US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, the event was packed with people from across the Middle East, as well as from China, India and the United States.
Khashoggi’s death was acknowledged at the beginning of the conference by a panel moderator, Lubna Olayan, a prominent Saudi business leader who said she had known the journalist.
“I want to tell all our foreign guests, for whose presence with us this morning we are very grateful, that the terrible acts reported in recent weeks are alien to our culture and our DNA,” she said.