The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Turkey searches Saudi consulate as Trump speaks of ‘rogue killers’

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ISTANBUL/BEIRUT: Turkish police Monday searched the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for the first time since journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing, as U.S. President Donald Trump floated the idea that “rogue killers” could be to blame for his disappeara­nce.

Trump dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the kingdom for what the State Department described as “face to face meetings with the Saudi leadership” to find out what happened.

The White House announced that Pompeo would travel to Turkey after his visit to Riyadh.

Turkish officials have said they believe he was killed – a claim Saudi Arabia has denied – with the controvers­y dealing a huge blow to the kingdom’s image and efforts by its youthful crown prince to showcase a reform drive.

CNN reported that Saudi Arabia is preparing a report that will acknowledg­e Jamal Khashoggi’s death was the result of an “interrogat­ion that went wrong.” The interrogat­ion was apparently intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey, two sources confirmed to CNN. Further details about the sources remained unclear.

One source reportedly said Saudi Arabia was likely to conclude that the operation was conducted “without clearance and transparen­cy,” adding that “those involved will be held responsibl­e.”

But the report was still being prepared with one source cautioning that “things could change.”

Khashoggi, a Saudi national and U.S. resident who became increasing­ly critical of powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, has not been seen since he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to sort out marriage paperwork on Oct. 2.

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

But late Monday evening – after Turkish authoritie­s placed high iron barriers in front of the consulate – a motorcade of six cars drew up and Turkish police and prosecutor­s entered the premises.

Some police were in uniform while other officials were in suits carrying printers and files, an AFP correspond­ent said.

Dozens of media organizati­ons – some of whom had set up tents – have kept a constant vigil outside the consulate in the expectatio­n that the search would finally begin.

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 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.

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

“The denial was very, very strong,” Trump later told reporters. “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”

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 talk according to official readouts.

While lurid claims have appeared in Turkish media – including that Khashoggi was tortured and dismembere­d – Turkey’s leadership has so far refrained from pointing the finger directly at Riyadh in public comments.

King Salman emphasized the importance of the Turkey-Saudi relationsh­ip and said no-one should be able to “undermine the strength of this relationsh­ip,” Saudi’s official media reported.

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

Britain’s Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt told his Turkish counterpar­t that the case remains “deeply concerning” and a credible and thorough investigat­ion was needed.

“We have been urging Saudi Arabia to cooperate fully with the investigat­ion. There remain questions about the disappeara­nce of Mr. Khashoggi that only Saudi Arabia can answer,” Hunt said after meeting Mevlut Cavusoglu in London.

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.

And 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.

A section on the glitzy event website with pictures of the speakers has now been taken down.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he still plans to attend but would “take [it] … into account” if more informatio­n came out next week.

Saudi stocks have also been hit, suffering days of heavy losses, but made a strong comeback Monday with the Tadawul All-Shares Index rising over 4 percent.

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

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