Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected assertions Wednesday that he was giving Saudi leaders “the benefit of the doubt” in accepting their denials of any involvement in the disappearance and possible murder of U.S. resident and dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi case.
“It’s not about benefit of the doubt,” Pompeo said, adding that he agreed to give the Saudi government “a few more days” to complete their own investigation of the matter. Then, he and others in the Trump administration would make a judgment on whether it was credible, he said.
“It’s reasonable to give them a handful of days more to complete it, so they get it right,” Pompeo told reporters as he prepared to return to Washington from a series of hastily arranged meetings in Saudi Arabia and Turkey to confront the growing diplomatic crisis stemming from Khashoggi’s apparent murder.
Asked if the Saudi probe would be done in a matter of days, Pompeo said: “That’s what they’ve indicated they need. And then we’ll get to see it. We’ll evaluate this on a factual straight-up basis.”
Pompeo made the remarks to reporters after holding talks with Turkey’s leadership in Ankara on Wednesday following disturbing new allegations that surfaced over how Khashoggi may have been killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi journalist, who wrote critically of the kingdom and royal family for The Washington Post, has been missing since entering the consulate on Oct. 2.
Pompeo’s visit to Turkey’s capital, where he met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, followed a stop in Saudi Arabia, where he held talks with Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, over the disappearance of Khashoggi.
For the last two weeks, Turkish security officials have claimed in various leaks to state-run media and some U.S. outlets that they have audio and video evidence indicating Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. Police investigators searching the consulate on Tuesday also said, without elaborating, that they found evidence Khashoggi was killed there. Saudi Arabia’s leadership has consistently denied the allegations and Saudi officials have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
In addition to Erdogan, Pompeo met Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The talks lasted about 40 minutes. U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said that Pompeo expressed U.S. concern over Khashoggi’s disappearance and “reiterated the United States’ willingness to assist Turkey in its investigation.”
Before leaving Riyadh, Pompeo said the kingdom has assured him that a fully “transparent investigation” would take place and there would be “no exceptions on who they would hold accountable,” including members of the governing royal family.
But despite these assurances, allegations against the Saudis are mounting, with a lurid account published Wednesday by pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak of Khashoggi’s alleged slaying just the latest such example. The newspaper said it has heard an audio recording of Khashoggi’s murder in which Saudi Consul General Mohammed al-Otaibi could be heard on the tape telling those allegedly torturing Khashoggi: “Do this outside; you’re going to get me in trouble.” It said one of the torturers replied: “Shut up if you want to live when you return to (Saudi) Arabia.”
Yeni Safak claimed Khashoggi was tortured then dismembered while still alive. The Saudi who cut Khashoggi’s body up was advised to put on earphones and listen to music, according to the newspaper, which cited government security sources.
The alleged execution reportedly lasted seven minutes.
Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told the state-run Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia has “accepted” a request for a search of the Saudi consul’s official residence in Istanbul but has not yet given its final consent.
It’s been reported this week that the Saudis may also decide to acknowledge Khashoggi’s slaying, perhaps as part of a botched interrogation and/or rendition. Khashoggi had moved to Washington last year because he feared retribution for his criticism of Saudi Arabia amid a crackdown on dissent that has jailed hundreds.
Still, President Donald Trump has appeared to give the Saudis the benefit of the doubt amid rising global condemnation. In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, Trump compared the situation to the allegations of sexual assault leveled against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.
“I think we have to find out what happened first,” he said. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”
Also Tuesday: Trump said he spoke with both the Saudi king and crown prince and both men emphatically disputed involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance. “(He) totally denied any knowledge of what took place,” Trump said of the crown prince.
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a longstanding close relationship that extends to cooperation on oil production, combatting terrorism and weapons sales. Trump visited the Middle East country as part of his first foreign trip as president.
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