Jour­nal­ist’s dis­ap­pear­ance test­ing Trump-Saudi ties

Pres­i­dent says he’ll raise is­sue with King Sal­man

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD MARYLAND - By Deb Riech­mann and Jonathan Lemire

WASHINGTON — The White House re­la­tion­ship with Riyadh is im­per­iled over the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of a Saudi writer, and the sit­u­a­tion is cre­at­ing fric­tion be­tween the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and mem­bers of Congress de­mand­ing to know if the colum­nist for The Washington Post was killed in­side the Saudi Con­sulate in Turkey.

Trump said he has talked to of­fi­cials at the high­est level of the king­dom and is “de­mand­ing ev­ery­thing” to ex­plain how Ja­mal Khashoggi, an ac­tivist who had been crit­i­cal of Saudi lead­ers, van­ished af­ter he walked into the con­sulate in Is­tan­bul to get doc­u­ments he needed to get mar­ried.

Turk­ish author­i­ties claim Khashoggi, who resided in the United States, was killed by mem­bers of an elite Saudi “as­sas­si­na­tion squad.”

The Washington Post re­ported that the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has told U.S. of­fi­cials that it has au­dio and video record­ings that prove Khashoggi was killed in­side the Saudi Con­sulate this month, ac­cord­ing to U.S. and Turk­ish of­fi­cials.

The record­ings show that a Saudi se­cu­rity team de­tained Khashoggi in the con­sulate af­ter he walked in Oct. 2, then killed him and dis­mem­bered his body, the of­fi­cials said.

The au­dio record­ing pro­vides some of the most per­sua­sive and grue­some ev­i­dence that the Saudi team is re­spon­si­ble for Khashoggi’s death, the of­fi­cials said.

“The voice record­ing from in­side the em­bassy lays out what hap­pened to Ja­mal af­ter he en­tered,” said Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump lis­tens to a ques­tion about miss­ing Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi af­ter land­ing in Ohio. one per­son with knowl­edge of the record­ing who, like oth­ers, spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss highly sen­si­tive in­tel­li­gence.

“You can hear his voice and the voices of men speak­ing Ara­bic,” this per­son said. “You can hear how he was in­ter­ro­gated, tor­tured and then mur­dered.”

The king­dom de­scribes the al­le­ga­tion as “base­less.”

But if Saudi Ara­bia is found to be com­plicit in his dis­ap­pear­ance or death, the warm U.S.-Saudi re­la­tion­ship — and even hopes for Mid­dle East peace — could be up­ended.

A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said Fri­day that the U.S. is in on­go­ing con­tact with Turk­ish and Saudi of­fi­cials about the case.

Trump said Fri­day he would bring up the mat­ter with King Sal­man.

The U.S. be­lieves it is es­sen­tial that Turk­ish author­i­ties — with full, trans­par­ent sup­port from the Saudi gov­ern­ment — are able to con­duct a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion and of­fi­cially re­lease the results, the of­fi­cial said.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said the U.S. sup­ports Turk­ish in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ ef­forts, will not pre­judge the out­come of the of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but stands ready to as­sist.

Trump said Thurs­day the U.S. had “in­ves­ti­ga­tors over there and we’re work­ing with Turkey” and Saudi Ara­bia. But he has pro­vided no de­tails.

Trump has backed Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man’s am­bi­tious cam­paign to mod­ern­ize the con­ser­va­tive king­dom and its econ­omy. Trump’s sonin-law, Jared Kush­ner, who ex­changes phone and text mes­sages with the crown prince, was in­stru­men­tal in last year’s deal to sell $110 bil­lion in U.S. weapons to the king­dom.

But even be­fore Khashoggi van­ished, con­cerns were mount­ing in Congress over Saudi Ara­bia’s poli­cies and the crown prince’s steps to si­lence his crit­ics. And now there are calls on Capi­tol Hill for the U.S. to halt arms sales to the king­dom, and Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance could gal­va­nize more op­po­si­tion from law­mak­ers and pres­sure Trump to re­think his re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia.

Trump on Thurs­day pro­nounced U.S. re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia “ex­cel­lent” and said he doesn’t want to scut­tle arms deals with Riyadh be­cause it means tens of mil­lions of dol­lars pour­ing into the U.S. econ­omy. He said the king­dom would sim­ply buy the weapons from Rus­sia or China in­stead.

EVAN VUCCI/AP

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