Trump tells US newspaper Saudi prince could be behind Khashoggi death
- ‘I want to believe them. I really want to believe them,’ US president told The Wall Street Journal, referring to Saudi excuse for killing journalist
- Britain says it is revoking visas for Saudis suspected of involvement in death in Istanbul consulate
US President Donald Trump, in his strongest remarks so far, said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bears ultimate responsibility as de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, for the operation that led to the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, indicating the prince is “running things over there” in Riyadh.
Speaking to The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Trump said he wanted to believe the prince’s claim that lower level officials were to blame for the October 2 killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but suggested responsibility lay higher up.
Asked about Prince Mohammed’s possible involvement, Trump said: “Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.”
Trump said he was convinced King Salman had no advance knowledge of the incident, according to the newspaper.
Earlier on Tuesday, the president told reporters at the White House that Saudi authorities had staged the “worst cover-up ever” over the incident, and they had handled the matter badly.
The brutal death of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist critical of the crown prince, has sparked global outrage and threatened relations between Riyadh and Washington as well as other Western nations.
In his interview with the Journal, Trump said he had asked the prince several times about the matter.
“My first question to him was, ‘Did you know anything about it?’” Trump said, adding that the prince told him that he did not.
The president said he asked the prince “‘Where did it start?’ And he said it started at lower levels.”
Asked whether he believed the denials, Trump told the newspaper: “I want to believe them. I really want to believe them.”
The United States also on Tuesday vowed to revoke the visas of some of those believed to be behind the attack.
Across the Atlantic, America’s main ally Britain on Wednesday made a similar pledge.
“The Home Secretary is taking action against all suspects to prevent them entering the UK. If these individuals currently have visas, those visas will be revoked today,” Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament.
Khashoggi’s death has piled more pressure on May’s government to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been waging a three-year bombing campaign in Yemen.
Asked whether she will follow Germany and suspend arms sales to Riyadh, May insisted Britain’s defence export controls were “among the strictest in the world” and the Saudi arms sales policy was “under review”.
May insisted she will continue to pile diplomatic pressure on Saudi leaders to complete a swift and transparent investigation.
“The foreign secretary and the foreign ministers and our ambassador have been making our position very clear to the Saudi Arabians,” she said. “I myself expect to speak to King Salman later today.”
British media have reported that Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, the man named by Turkish media as the leader of the operation to kill Khashoggi, used to work at the Saudi embassy in London.
Turkey, which is investigating the killing, has dismissed Saudi efforts to blame rogue operatives and has promised to hold those behind Khashoggi’s death responsible.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse