‘Saudis still aren’t com­ing clean’

Riyadh’s ac­count of killing de­nounced — ex­cept by Trump

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Christo­pher Torchia, Zeynep Bil­gin­soy and Sarah El Deeb

IS­TAN­BUL — Tur­key will “never al­low a coverup” of the killing of Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi in Saudi Ara­bia’s con­sulate in Is­tan­bul, a se­nior of­fi­cial in Tur­key’s rul­ing party said Satur­day, re­flect­ing in­ter­na­tional skep­ti­cism over the Saudi ac­count that the writer died dur­ing a “fist­fight.”

The Saudi ex­pla­na­tion — that an ar­gu­ment in the con­sulate led toa fa­tal brawl — is at odds with the con­clu­sions of Turk­ish in­ves­ti­ga­tors, who be­lieve that Khashoggi was de­lib­er­ately killed by a team of Saudi agents who were dis­patched to Is­tan­bul.

Tur­key’s com­ment was one of many crit­i­cal re­ac­tions to Saudi Ara­bia’s an­nounce­ment early Satur­day of the writer’s death, in­di­cat­ing the king­dom’s ef­forts to defuse a scan­dal that has gripped the world were fall­ing short.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, how­ever, was an ex­cep­tion.

Asked whether he thought the Saudi ex­pla­na­tion was cred­i­ble, Trump replied: “I do. I do.”

Trump told re­porters Satur­day af­ter­noon that he would be speak­ing with Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, the crown prince of Saudi Ara­bia, soon and is con­sid­er­ing plac­ing sanc­tions on Riyadh, though prefer­ably not on U.S. sales of arms and other mil­i­tary equip­ment.

“That would hurt us far more than it­would ... them,” Trump said.

He said no one in his ad­min­is­tra­tion had heard au­dio or seen video of what tran­spired in the Saudi Con­sulate nor re­viewed tran­scripts of any record­ings.

“I’m not sat­is­fied un­til we find the an­swer,” he said, re­fer­ring to how Khashoggi, a U.S. per­ma­nent res­i­dent who was liv­ing in self ex­ile in Vir­ginia, was killed.

Trump ap­peared to ini­tially ac­cept the Saudi ex­pla­na­tion, but U.S. law­mak­ers, in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and for­eign pol­icy ex­perts quickly ac­cused the Riyadh gov­ern­ment of a cover-up.

“This is an ad­mis­sion of guilt, but the Saudis still aren’t com­ing clean with the truth,” Sen. Jack Reed, R.I., the rank­ing Demo­crat on the Armed Ser­vices com­mit­tee, said in a state­ment. “The Saudi’s lat­est ver­sion of events still isn’t cred­i­ble, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion must not be com­plicit in al­low­ing them to sweep this un­der the rug.”

Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the Saudi ver­sion of events changes “with each pass­ing day, so we should not as­sume their lat­est story holds wa­ter.”

Other na­tions also ex­pressed crit­i­cism.

Ger­many’s chan­cel­lor, An­gela Merkel, and the for­eign min­is­ter, Heiko Maas, is­sued a joint state­ment, ac­cord­ing to Reuters, say­ing: “We ex­pect trans­parency from Saudi Ara­bia about the cir­cum­stances of his death. ... The in­for­ma­tion avail­able about events in Is­tan­bul is in­ad­e­quate.”

“The Span­ish gov­ern­ment is dis­mayed by early re­ports from the Saudi pros­e­cu­tor about the death of the Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi,” Spain said in a state­ment.

De­spite out­rage over the killing of the colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Post, it is un­clear to what ex­tent the top lead­er­ship of Saudi Ara­bia, a key U.S. ally and a pow­er­ful player in a volatile re­gion, would be held ac­count­able for what hu­man rights ac­tivists de­scribe as an ex­tra­ju­di­cial killing by Saudi agents.

The only way to find out what hap­pened would be through an in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by a U.N.-ap­pointed panel, the ed­ito- rial board of The Wash­ing­ton Post said.

Saudi Ara­bia’s “lat­est ver­sion asks us to be­lieve that Mr. Khashoggi died after be­com­ing en­gaged in a ‘brawl’ with of­fi­cials who had been sent to meet him. His body, Saudi of­fi­cials told sev­eral jour­nal­ists, was handed over to a ‘lo­cal col­lab­o­ra­tor’ for dis­posal,” it said, while also crit­i­ciz­ing Trump for al­legedly try­ing to help top Saudi lead­ers es­cape “mean­ing­ful ac­count­abil­ity.”

Saudi Ara­bia said 18 Saudi sus­pects were in cus­tody and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials had been fired.

But crit­ics be­lieve the com­plex scheme that led to Khashoggi’s death could not have oc­curred with­out the knowl­edge of Mo­hammed, the 33-year-old crown prince whose early prom­ises of sweep­ing re­form are be­ing eclipsed by con­cerns that he maybe an im­pul­sive, even sin­is­ter fig­ure.

The Saudi nar­ra­tive of Khashoggi’s death con­trasts with Turk­ish pro-gov­ern­ment me­dia re­ports that a Saudi hit squad trav­eled to Is­tan­bul to kill Khashoggi and dis­pose of his body, which has not been found.

The overnight state­ment, re­leased by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, that the writer died in the con­sulate also came more than two weeks after Khashoggi, 59, en­tered the build­ing for pa­per­work re­quired to marry his Turk­ish fi­ancee— and never came out.

Saudi Ara­bia ini­tially de­nied any knowl­edge of his dis­ap­pear­ance.

The king­dom has de­scribed as­ser­tions in Turk­ish me­dia, based on pur­ported au­dio record­ings that Khashoggi was tor­tured, killed and dis­mem­bered in­side the con­sulate, as “base­less.”

Turk­ish politi­cians pushed back Satur­day.

“It’s not pos­si­ble for the Saudi ad­min­is­tra­tion to wig­gle it­self out of this crime if it’s con­firmed,” said Nu­man Kur­tul­mus, deputy head of Tur­key’s Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party. He also said Tur­key would share its ev­i­dence of Khashoggi’s killing with the world and that a “con­clu­sive re­sult” of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is close.

“God have mercy on you my love Ja­mal, and may you rest in Par­adise,” Khashoggi’s fi­ancee, Hat­ice Cen­giz, tweeted fol­low­ing the Saudi an­nounce­ments.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump says no one in his ad­min­is­tra­tion has heard au­dio of what hap­pened in the Saudi Con­sulate.

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