Pressure on Saudis over missing Khashoggi

Virginia Carson
October 16, 2018

Trump suggested that "rogue killers" could be responsible.

Khashoggi, a Saudi national and U.S. resident who became increasingly critical of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has not been seen since he walked into the kingdom's Istanbul consulate to sort out marriage paperwork on Oct 2. She has said she waited outside the consulate for hours but Khashoggi never came out.

Members of Mr Khashoggi's family have called for "an independent and impartial international" investigation.

"The strong moral and legal responsibility which our father instilled in us obliges us to call for the establishment of an independent and impartial worldwide commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death", his family said.

He has not been seen since he walked into the Istanbul consulate to sort out marriage paperwork on October 2. The Saudi government could not be reached immediately for comment on the CNN report.

"His denial to me could not have been stronger", Trump told reporters, referring to the king. The Saudi government, it said, would shield the prince by blaming an intelligence official for the bungled operation.

While organizers said Monday the conference will go on, the Saudis cancelled an annual diplomatic reception in Washington set for later this week.

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On Monday, the Glover Park Group, which had a $150,000-per-month contract to represent the Saudi government, and the BGR Group, with an $80,000-per-month contract, both ended the relationships, according to people familiar with the situations.

The opening of the probe and the consulate search marked a new flurry of activity on the Saudi side, after two weeks in which Riyadh has done little except deny responsibility. And details - if they can be proven - like an autopsy expert identified by name, stepping off a private jet from Saudi Arabia, carrying a bone saw to perform an "interrogation", may prove hard to explain away.

After meeting the Turkish foreign minister yesterday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "There remain questions about Mr Khashoggi that only Saudi Arabia can answer".

In a "60 Minutes" interview that aired on Sunday, Trump said there would be consequences if it turned out Saudi Arabia had anything to do with Khashoggi's disappearance. "It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers". The U.S. president has been after King Salman and OPEC to boost production for weeks to drive down high crude oil prices, caused in part by the coming re-imposition of oil sanctions on Iran after the U.S. withdrawal from that's country's nuclear deal with world powers. Trump, after speaking on Monday with King Salman, said without offering evidence that the slaying could have been carried out by "rogue killers".

The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, left Washington last week, returned to Riyadh and will not be returning, a current and a former US official said Monday. "Absolutely extraordinary they were able to enlist the president as their PR agent to float it", said Chris Murphy, a Democrat senator.

Trump said Pompeo may go to Turkey after Saudi Arabia. The team arrived at the consulate in an unmarked police auto dressed in overalls and gloves and made no comments to reporters gathered outside as they entered the building.

Meanwhile, a Turkish forensics team finished earlier in the morning a search inside the consulate.

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What evidence Turkish officials gathered at the consulate remains unknown.

A Saudi official, not authorized to speak publicly, told Reuters that the king had ordered an internal investigation based on information from the joint team in Istanbul.

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

Khashoggi, a familiar face on Arab talk shows, moved to Washington past year fearing retribution for his criticism of Prince Mohammed, who has cracked down on dissent with arrests.

Turkish officials said they fear a Saudi hit team killed and dismembered Khashoggi, allegations the Saudi kingdom has dismissed as "baseless", however, it has not presented evidence of the journalist leaving the consulate.

The Saudi riyal, rebounded early after falling to its lowest in two years over fears that foreign investment could shrink.

The Saudi stock market had tumbled 7.2 percent over the previous two trading days but rebounded 2 percent on Monday. Regardless of whether the midterm elections produce a Congress more or less favorable to the White House, the bipartisan condemnation of Khashoggi's disappearance and the determination of the Beltway media to find out what happened to one of their own mean that simply reverting to a "business-as-usual" approach probably won't be an option.

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