After a whirlwind emergency trip to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told President Donald Trump on Thursday that the United States needs to give the Saudis “a few more days” to investigate the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“We made clear to them that we take this matter very seriously,” Pompeo said after meeting with Trump to brief him on his two-day trip, during which he discussed Khashoggi’s disappearance with top government officials. “They assured me that they will conduct a complete and thorough investigation.”
Pompeo did not say whether he believes Khashoggi is dead.
“There are lots of stories out there about what has happened,” Pompeo said. “We just are going to allow the process to move forward, allow the facts to unfold.”
After Pompeo’s brief remarks, Trump tweeted that “the Saudi situation was discussed in great detail” in his meeting with the secretary of state. He wrote that Pompeo is “waiting for the results of the investigations being done by the Saudis and Turkey.”
It’s been more than two weeks since Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who obtained U.S. residency last year over fears for his safety, vanished after visiting the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials claimed there are gruesome audio and video recordings of Khashoggi being beheaded and dismembered within minutes of entering the compound. The Saudi government denied killing the journalist.
Pompeo traveled to the Saudi and Turkish capitals to seek answers in the case that has put pressure on the Trump administration. Trump said Wednesday in the Oval Office that the United States asked Ankara for copies of audio or video evidence of Khashoggi’s killing, “if it exists.”
Pompeo did not say anything about the recordings. He expressed confidence that the Saudi government would conduct a full and “transparent” investigation, and he emphasized America’s decades-long alliance with the Saudi government.
“We have a long strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Pompeo said. “We need to be mindful of that.”
Trump denied that he’s “giving cover” to Saudi Arabia, which cooperates with Washington on oil, anti-terrorism operations and arms sales and acts as a bulwark against the United States’ regional enemy Iran. “I want to find out what happened, where is the fault, and we will probably know that by the end of the week,” Trump said Wednesday.
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In the midst of the diplomatic crisis, Saudi Arabia transferred $100 million to the State Department – a long-promised contribution to help stabilize parts of Syria that have been liberated from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
The donation came as Pompeo landed in Riyadh to meet with Saudi officials.
A top State Department official involved in securing the funds said there was no connection.
“We always expected the contribution to be finalized in the fall timeframe,” said Dan McGurk, the president’s special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. “The specific transfer of funds has been long in process and has nothing to do with other events or the secretary’s visit.”
The Saudis made the $100 million pledge in August, and McGurk was in Riyadh on Oct. 12 working to finalize the transfer.
Trump floated the idea that Khashoggi may have been killed by “rogue killers.”
Saudi Arabia called the allegations against it completely “baseless.”
The pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak claimed Wednesday that the 60-year-old journalist who wrote for The Washington Post was accosted by a team of Saudi agents immediately upon entering the consulate, who cut off his fingers and decapitated him. Thursday, Sabah, a Turkish newspaper with close government ties, published surveillance video images showing a man who traveled with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince on a visit to the USA in March walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi disappeared.
“If a country engages in activity that is unlawful, it’s unacceptable. No one is going to defend activity of that nature,” Pompeo said in Turkey Wednesday after holding talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A State Department spokeswoman said Pompeo had not reviewed the recordings Turkish security officials claimed to possess.
On his way home to Washington from Turkey on Wednesday, Pompeo acknowledged growing calls for answers: “Sooner’s better than later for everyone.”
Turkish investigators searched the Istanbul home of the Saudi consul general and the consulate where Khashoggi was allegedly killed for clues but revealed little about what they discovered. The consul left Turkey this week.
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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, has jailed hundreds of journalists, activists, officials and even members of his own royal family in a bid to quash dissent.
Thursday, The Washington Post published the last column by Khashoggi, written shortly before he went missing and sent to the newspaper a day after he disappeared by his translator. The column, titled “What the Arab world needs most is free expression,” focuses on the need for a free media in the Middle East.
Khashoggi lamented in the piece that many Arabs, in his view, live in a state of misinformation. He wrote about how freedom of the press has been under attack and generally isn’t taken seriously by the international community, and as a result, reporters were being silenced. “These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community,” Khashoggi wrote. “Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly, followed by silence. As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media.”