Saudi Arabia

Team from Riyadh in Turkey for talks on missing journalist, as media ditch Saudi conference

CNN and Financial Times are latest companies to have pulled out of the Saudi Future Investment Initiative conference just over a week before it begins

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 8:48am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 8:43pm

A delegation from Saudi Arabia has arrived in Turkey as part of a joint investigation into the disappearance of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, two Turkish sources said on Friday.

A Saudi source also said a senior royal, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, visited Turkey on Thursday for talks. Later the same day Turkey said the two countries had agreed to form a joint working group – at Riyadh’s initiative – to investigate the case.

At the same time, media companies CNN and Financial Times said they were dropping out of the Saudi Future Investment Initiative conference, which is being held on October 23-25 The New York Times. FT also reported that World Bank head Jim Yong Kim, who it said was down as a confirmed speaker on the website for the event, known as the “Davos of the Desert”, was also not going. Several business leaders have also changed their minds.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday he was still planning to attend.

Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to get documents for his forthcoming marriage. Saudi officials claim he left soon afterwards but Turkish officials and his fiancée, who was waiting outside, said he never came out.

Turkish sources have said the initial assessment of the police was that Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi government, was deliberately killed inside the consulate. Riyadh has dismissed the allegations as baseless.

But the Turkish government has told US officials it has audio and video recordings that prove columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, The Washington Post reported, citing unidentified US and Turkish officials.

Recordings show a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi – a contributor to The Washington Post in the consulate before killing him and dismembering his body, the paper said.

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Turkish officials have said he was killed inside the consulate, a claim the Saudi government has vehemently denied.

“You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” the Post quoted one person with knowledge of the recording, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as saying. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”

US President Donald Trump has said Khashoggi’s disappearance was “a terrible thing and it certainly would not be a positive” for US-Saudi relations, but he did not want to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, possibly setting up a clash with the US Congress.

Trump said the US may be closer to finding out what happened to the journalist.

Speaking to reporters, Trump said the Gulf nation would just spend its money elsewhere.

“They’re spending US$110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs … for this country. I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of US$110 billion into the United States, because you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else,” he said.

His comments prompted resistance from members of the US Senate, including from some of his fellow Republicans, many of whom signed a letter on Wednesday forcing his administration to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance and paving the way to possible sanctions on Saudi officials.

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“If it’s found that they murdered a journalist, that will hugely change our relationship,” Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters. “There will have to be significant sanctions placed at the highest levels.”

The Khashoggi incident might make it very hard for the Trump administration to win congressional approval for arms sales to the Saudis. Many lawmakers, including some Republicans, have already questioned US support for Saudi’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war, which has prompted a humanitarian crisis.

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Under US law, major foreign sales of military equipment can be blocked by Congress. There is also an informal process in which key lawmakers can put “holds” on arm sales.

Senior US officials, including Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, have spoken with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about the disappearance.

Trump made Saudi Arabia his first foreign stop as president but in recent weeks has appeared to sour a bit on Riyadh, complaining about the cost of American support for the Saudi military and about oil price increases.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg