Trump warns Saudis of severe punishment if they killed reporter
President ramps up the pressure on kingdom after disappearance of citizen who criticised its policies
DONALD TRUMP has threatened “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if it is proven that the kingdom was responsible for murdering Jamal Khashoggi, the missing journalist.
The US president said he was “very upset and angry” about the case and indicated that he was not fully convinced by the Saudis’ repeated claims of innocence. “Could it be them? Yes,” he said.
“In the not too distant future I think we’ll know an answer,” Mr Trump told CBS News in a 60 Minutes interview that will air today. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment.”
Mr Khashoggi, who would have turned 60 yesterday, has not been seen since he went into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2. Turkish officials claim to have tapes of Saudi operatives torturing and murdering him, possibly recorded by the journalist’s own Apple Watch. Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied any involvement.
Mr Trump said he would not cancel arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as a bipartisan group of senators have demanded. “I don’t want to hurt jobs,” he said.
Sources close to the royal court said the inner circle of Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, was shocked at the speed and intensity at which global anger over Mr Khash-
‘In the not too distant future I think we’ll know an answer. We’re going to get to the bottom of it’
After 11 days of blanket denials of responsibility, the Saudi government is now trying to chart a more proactive course to deal with the fallout while also trying to shield Crown Prince Mohammed’s own reputation.
The crown prince has summoned home the Saudi ambassador in Washington, his younger brother Prince Khalid bin Salman, for consultations on how to appease the US. He also sent a team of officials to Ankara to form a “joint working group” with the Turkish government to look into what happened to the Saudi journalist who had criticised his country’s policies.
In a statement yesterday, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud, the Saudi interior minister, denounced the “lies and baseless allegations” against the kingdom, in the first public comment by a Saudi minister since the crisis began on Oct 2.
A theory discussed in pro-Saudi circles is that Riyadh will try to get the Turks to agree to a joint statement explaining Mr Khashoggi’s death in a way that causes minimal damage to Crown Prince Mohammed.
One possibility is to say Mr Khashoggi died of a heart attack inside the consulate and his body was hidden by panicked diplomatic staff. It is not clear that Turkey could agree to a sanitised version of events, given that officials there have leaked lurid claims to the press of Saudi spies and soldiers allegedly murdering Mr Khashoggi.
Blaming the security services comes with its own risks. Turkey may demand Saudi Arabia hand over the alleged killers for prosecution, potentially causing a backlash at home. turned towards
On a role
Nicole Kidman last night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences new members’ reception at the National Gallery, London. The Australian actress, 51, is tipped to be nominated for her part in Destroyer.