Saudi delegation in Turkey for talks on missing writer

Frederick Owens
October 16, 2018

Trump said he spoke to the Saudi king for about 20 minutes about Khashoggi, who disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, and that it sounded like neither the king nor Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had knowledge about the incident.

President Trump has warned that Saudi Arabia would face "severe punishment" if it was found to have killed Khashoggi.

One source said the report will likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and transparency and that those involved will be held responsible.

Hours before the announcement, Tadawul exchange in Riyadh dropped by as much as 7 percent during the week's first day of trading, with 182 of its 186 listed stocks showing losses by the early afternoon.

Khashoggi had often been critical of the Saudi government in his writing.

The State Department subsequently confirmed Pompeo was en route to Saudi Arabia.

Trump's comments may be a sign that Washington is preparing to accept Saudi Arabia's efforts to distance its leaders from whatever fate befell Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate. His fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, waited outside the consulate and says she did not see him re-emerge.

"The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether through economic sanctions, political pressure or repeating false accusations", a statement by the Saudi government said.

Trump tweeted about the phone conversation earlier on Monday and said he'd sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to meet with the king. "We have nothing to hide", he said.

Salman's denial, however, "could not have been stronger", he added.

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"It sounded to me like maybe these could be rogue killers, who knows?" he said.

Turkish authorities repeatedly said that Khashoggi never left the consulate premises.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. The two leaders agreed on a joint working group to investigate the case.

Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

More than 20 Republican and Democratic senators instructed Trump last week to order an investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance under legislation that authorizes sanctions for perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross human rights violations. As if to drive the point home, a cleaning crew with mops, trash bags and cartons of milk walked in past journalists waiting outside the consulate on Monday.

Saudi Arabia may have agreed to the search in order to appease its Western allies and the global community. Turkish authorities said they believed that 15 Saudi men who arrived in Istanbul on October 2 were connected to the case.

If that group is to be characterized as part of a rogue operation meant to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia alive, questions could arise about Salah Muhammed al-Tubaiqi. The dissident Saudi journalist's Turkish colleagues and several Turkish officials have voiced concerns that he was murdered in the consulate.

The comments marked a break from the Trump administration's strenuous refusal to speculate over what happened to Khashoggi and came as the US president is under growing pressure to take action on the case of the Saudi writer, who was a contributor to The Washington Post and wrote columns critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Even if the Trump administration accepts the new Saudi explanation, members of Congress might not.

"Been hearing the ridiculous "rogue killers" theory was where the Saudis would go with this", Sen. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said King Salman thanked Erdogan "for welcoming the kingdom's proposal" for forming the working group. Chris Murphy of CT said on Twitter.

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