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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Saudi king over journalist's disappearance

Turkish police yesterday searched the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for the first time since Jamal Khashogg went missing.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir after arriving in Riyadh
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir after arriving in Riyadh
Image: LEAH MILLIS/Associated Press

US SECRETARY OF State Mike Pompeo has met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman over the disappearance and alleged slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The meeting comes hours after a Turkish forensics team finished a search inside the consulate in Istanbul, where Khashoggi, a Saudi national and US resident who became increasingly critical of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen.

Turkish officials fear Khashoggi, who has not been seen since walking into the consulate to sort out marriage paperwork on 2 October, was killed and dismembered there.

Saudi officials have called the allegations “baseless”, but US media reports that the kingdom is considering an admission that Khashoggi died after an interrogation that went wrong during an intended abduction.

US President Donald Trump has said that “rogue killers” could be behind the incident, before he dispatched Pompeo for what the State Department described as “face to face meetings with the Saudi leadership”.

Pompeo landed in Riyadh this morning and was welcomed by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on landing. He didn’t make any remarks to the media.

Soon afterwards, Pompeo arrived at a royal palace, where King Salman greeted him.

America’s top diplomat thanked the king “for accepting my visit on behalf of President (Donald) Trump” before going into a closed-door meeting.

Soil samples

Until yesterday, Riyadh did not allow Turkish investigators to search the consulate – officially Saudi territory – with reports both sides were at odds over the conditions.

The team, which arrived in a motorcade of six cars yesterday, left the premises in the early hours of this morning after an eight-hour search, an AFP correspondent said. 

The Turkish inspection team included a prosecutor, a deputy prosecutor, anti-terror police and forensic experts, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Certain areas of the consulate were to remain off-limits, although officials would be able to inspect surveillance cameras, Turkish media reported.

They took samples with them, including soil from the consulate garden that was loaded into vans, one official at the scene said.

A Saudi delegation had entered the consulate one hour before the Turkish police arrived and appeared still to be inside as the search was conducted.

Trump’s comments, meanwhile, came after a telephone conversation with King Salman, father of the crown prince, the first such talks since the crisis erupted.

“Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened ‘to our Saudi Arabian citizen’,” Trump tweeted.

Conciliatory remarks

Riyadh’s most recent comments have focused on having no knowledge of any killing or denying any order to kill Khashoggi had been given.

“The denial was very, very strong,” Trump later told reporters at the White House.

“It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”

But CNN cited two sources as saying the Saudis are preparing a report that his death resulted from a botched interrogation, while the Wall Street Journal said the kingdom was weighing whether to say that rogue operatives killed Khashoggi by mistake.

After critical talks in Riyadh today, Pompeo was expected in Turkey tomorrow to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

The search came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Salman also had their first telephone talks since the controversy erupted, in what appeared to be a conciliatory conversation, according to official readouts.

‘Davos in Desert’ unravels

The controversy has troubled Saudi’s traditional Western allies, who are key arms suppliers to the kingdom, and also undermined efforts by Mohammed bin Salman to present himself as a modernising ruler.

An investment conference seen as a platform for the crown prince and dubbed the “Davos in the Desert”, which was scheduled to take place in Riyadh next week, has been hit by a string of prominent cancellations.

Business barons including British billionaire Richard Branson and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, as well as media powerhouses Bloomberg and CNN have pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative (FII).

In a major new blow for the event, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Ford chairman Bill Ford also cancelled plans to attend as well as Larry Fink, the head of investment giant BlackRock, and Steve Schwarzman of Blackstone.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he still plans to attend but would “take (it)… into account” if more information came out.

Saudi stocks have also been hit, suffering days of heavy losses, but made a strong comeback yesterday with the Tadawul All-Shares Index (TASI) rising more than 4%.

Trump has threatened the kingdom with “severe punishment” if it is shown that Khashoggi was killed inside its Istanbul mission.

But he has also made clear he is reluctant to curb all-important arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Britain, France and Germany also released a rare joint statement saying they were treating Khashoggi’s disappearance “with the utmost seriousness” and calling for a “credible investigation”.

Riyadh, however, has vowed to hit back against any punitive measures imposed over the affair.

© – AFP 2018 with additional reporting from Associated Press.

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