December 16, 2018

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Pompeo Meets With Saudi Leaders to Discuss Khashoggi Case

Pompeo Meets With Saudi Leaders to Discuss Khashoggi Case
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BEIRUT, Lebanon — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, the crown prince and other top officials in Riyadh on Tuesday to discuss the disappearance of a prominent Saudi journalist who Turkish officials say was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The Oct. 2 disappearance and alleged killing of the dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who lived in the United States and whose 60th birthday was on Saturday, has heightened tension between Saudi Arabia and both Turkey and the United States, while severely tarnishing the reputation of the kingdom and its powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters in Ankara on Tuesday that investigators who searched the consulate on Monday and Tuesday were looking into “toxic materials, and those materials being removed by painting them over.” Turkish news outlets, citing unnamed sources, have reported that Mr. Khashoggi was drugged, and that parts of the consulate and the nearby consul’s residence were repainted after the journalist’s disappearance.

Later in the day, the Saudi consul, Mohammed al-Otaibi, left the country, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.

President Trump has vowed “severe punishment” if a Saudi hand is confirmed in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, but has said he does not want the case to affect arms sales that create American jobs.

But on Monday, a person familiar with Saudi plans said the kingdom was likely to say that the killing was an accident committed by “rogue” Saudi agents, not an assassination ordered from Riyadh. The Saudi version of the story will probably be that officials intended to interrogate and abduct Mr. Khashoggi, spiriting him back to Saudi Arabia, but that they botched the job, killing him instead, the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Saudi officials had yet to talk publicly about their plans.

For two weeks, Saudi leaders, including both the king and the crown prince, have denied that their country had anything to do with Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and have said that they did not know where he was. Saudi officials have insisted that he left the consulate, safe and free, the same day he entered it, although they have offered no supporting evidence.

But by Monday night, it appeared that the Trump administration and Turkey’s leaders were leaving room for a new version of events: Mr. Trump said after speaking with King Salman that perhaps “rogue killers” had been involved, and the Turkish authorities stopped leaking details of the investigation, which had previously appeared daily on the covers of Turkish newspapers.

At their meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Pompeo “thanked the king for his commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent and timely investigation of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance,” said Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman.

Mr. Pompeo was greeted on arrival by Prince Khalid bin Salman, a son of the king and younger brother of the crown prince. Prince Khalid had been serving as the Saudi ambassador to Washington, but returned to Riyadh last week, and United States officials said he was unlikely to return.

After seeing the king, Mr. Pompeo met with Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, and later with Prince Mohammed, who is regarded as the power behind the throne.

“We are strong and old allies,” the crown prince said in English, in brief remarks with reporters present as his meeting with the secretary of state began. “We face our challenges together.”

Prince Mohammed and Mr. Pompeo were scheduled to dine together, and the secretary was expected to fly Wednesday morning to the Turkish capital, Ankara.

The administration has refused calls to back down from lucrative weapon sales to Saudi Arabia. And Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, still plans to attend a Saudi investment forum next week, even as several American businesses and lobbyists have distanced themselves from the country.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia.” It was not clear what prompted that statement, but several news organizations have noted recently that the president has boasted about real estate deals with wealthy Saudis and once sold his yacht to a Saudi prince — ties that had been reported before, but that have drawn new attention because of the Khashoggi case.

Mr. Khashoggi had worked in Saudi embassies in Washington and London, and sometimes served as an unofficial spokesman for the Saudi leadership. He was considered an independent thinker, well liked by foreign journalists and diplomats.

But after Prince Mohammed began cracking down on dissenting voices at home, Mr. Khashoggi’s sympathies for democracy and political Islam put him at odds with the Saudi leadership. Mr. Khashoggi moved to Virginia and contributed columns to The Washington Post, establishing himself as a rare Saudi critic of the crown prince.

He was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to pick up a document — certification of his divorce so that he could remarry in Turkey. He and his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, planned to wed the next day.

The Turkish authorities have released video of him walking into the consulate, but they say there is no video of him walking out. Ms. Cengiz waited for him outside the building for hours.

Turkish officials say they have detailed evidence that Mr. Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate but have not released it publicly, and it is unclear if they have shared it with allies like the United States or Britain.

There are several possible explanations for the hesitance, ranging from mundane to opportunistic. Public release could reveal intelligence sources, like human informants or electronic surveillance. More cynically, Turkey could be seeking a deal with Saudi Arabia that would allow both sides to move on without pressing the matter.

The day of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance, 15 Saudi officials flew into Istanbul on two private jets chartered by a company with close ties to the crown prince and the Saudi Interior Ministry, the Turks say. They say the Saudis went to the consulate, killed Mr. Khashoggi and disposed of his body, then returned to the airport the same day and left Turkey.

One of the Saudis, an autopsy specialist, entered the country with a bone saw, according to Turkish officials.

Saudi officials allowed a team of Turkish investigators to search the consulate for the first time on Monday, and the Turks spent hours inside, leaving early Tuesday morning. They were expected to enter the consulate again on Tuesday, as well as the consul’s residence nearby, which the Turkish news media suggested may also have been involved in the plot.

Amid mounting international outrage over the disappearance, the United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said on Tuesday that the Saudi authorities should reveal all they know.

Given the gravity of the case, Saudi Arabia should set aside international conventions granting immunity to diplomats and diplomatic premises, Ms. Bachelet said, urging Turkey and Saudi Arabia to ensure “no further obstacles” were put in the way of an effective and transparent investigation.

“It seems very probable some crime has been committed,” Rupert Colville, a spokesman for Ms. Bachelet, told reporters in Geneva.

Follow Ben Hubbard and Daniel Victor on Twitter: @NYTBen and @bydanielvictor.

Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Daniel Victor from Hong Kong. Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva.





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