Pompeo to Trump: Give Saudi Arabia a ‘few more days’ to probe missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Pompeo to Trump: Give Saudi Arabia a ‘few more days’ to probe missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he told President Donald Trump on Thursday the U.S. should give Saudi Arabia “a few more days” to investigate the fate of Jamal Khashoggi – a move that gives the royal family fresh leeway to counter the mounting hard-to-defend allegations that Riyadh played a role in the disappearance and presumed slaying of the Saudi journalist. 

“We made clear to them that we take this matter very seriously,” Pompeo told reporters after meeting with Trump to brief him on his two-day trip to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where he discussed Khashoggi’s disappearance with top government officials. “They assured me that they will conduct a complete and thorough investigation.”

Pompeo took only two questions and did not say whether he believes Khashoggi is dead.

“There are lots of stories out there about what has happened,” Pompeo said. “We just are going to allow the process to move forward, allow the facts to unfold.”

Following Pompeo’s brief remarks to reporters, Trump tweeted that “the Saudi situation was discussed in great detail” in his meeting with the secretary of state. But he did not elaborate, writing that Pompeo is “waiting for the results of the investigations being done by the Saudis and Turkey.”

It’s been more than two weeks since Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi dissident who obtained U.S. residency last year over fears for his safety, vanished after visiting the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials claim there are gruesome audio and video recordings, described in Turkish media in recent days, that reveal Khashoggi was beheaded and dismembered within minutes of entering the compound. 

Pompeo traveled to the Saudi and Turkish capitals to seek answers in a case that has piled pressure on the Trump administration over its apparent skepticism of the Turkish claims. Trump said Wednesday in the Oval Office that the United States had asked Ankara for copies of any audio or video evidence of Khashoggi’s killing, “if it exists.”

Trump added: “I’m not sure yet that it exists, probably does, possibly does. I’ll have a full report on that (when Pompeo returns). “That’s going to be the first question I ask.”

Pompeo did not say anything about the recordings in his brief remarks to reporters. He expressed confidence that the Saudi government would conduct full and “transparent” investigation, and he emphasized America’s decades-long alliance with the Saudi government.

“We have a have a long strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Pompeo said. “We need to be mindful of that.”

Trump has denied claims that he’s “giving cover” to Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally with whom Washington cooperates on oil, anti-terrorism, arms sales and that acts as a bulwark against the U.S.’s regional enemy, Iran. “I want to find out what happened, where is the fault, and we will probably know that by the end of the week,” Trump said Wednesday. 

In the midst of the diplomatic crisis, Saudi Arabia transferred $100 million to the State Department – a long-promised contribution to help stabilize parts of Syria that have been liberated from ISIS. The timing of the donation, first reported by the New York Times, has raised eyebrows.

It came just as Pompeo landed in Riyadh to meet with Saudi officials on the Khashoggi case. Pompeo and Trump have seemed reluctant to take a hard line with the Saudi royal family over Khashoggi’s alleged murder.

But a top State Department official involved in securing the funds said there was no connection.

“We always expected the contribution to be finalized in the fall timeframe,” said Dan McGurk, the president’s special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. “The specific transfer of funds has been long in process and has nothing to do with other events or the secretary’s visit.”

The Saudi’s originally made the $100 million pledge in August, and McGurk was in Riyadh on Friday working to finalize the transfer.  

Trump previously floated the idea Khashoggi may have been killed by “rogue killers” and in his phone calls with Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has appeared willing to accept their denials of having any knowledge of what went on inside the consulate or who may have ordered Khashoggi’s killing. 

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has called the alarming allegations against it completely “baseless.” Yet Saudi authorities have failed to produce any evidence of their own proving that Khashoggi left its diplomatic compound in Istanbul on Oct. 2, while a growing file of circumstantial evidence has become increasingly hard to dismiss.   

The pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak claimed Wednesday that the 60-year-old journalist who wrote for the Washington Post was accosted by a team of Saudi agents immediately upon entering the consulate, cutting off his fingers and later decapitating him. Sabah, a separate Turkish newspaper with close government ties, on Thursday published surveillance video images showing a man who previously traveled with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince on a visit to the U.S. in March walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi disappeared there.

“If a country engages in activity that is unlawful, it’s unacceptable. No one is going to defend activity of that nature,” Pompeo said in Turkey Wednesday after holding talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A State Department spokeswoman said Pompeo had not reviewed the recordings Turkish security officials claim to possess. 

On his way home to Washington from Turkey on Wednesday, Pompeo acknowledged growing calls for answers: “Sooner’s better than later for everyone.” 

Turkish investigators searched the Istanbul home of the Saudi consul general and the consulate where Khashoggi was allegedly killed for clues, but have revealed relatively little about what they discovered there. The consul left Turkey earlier this week. 

More: The last column Jamal Khashoggi wrote before disappearing focuses on need for free press

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More: ‘Do this outside’: New lurid claims over how Saudi Arabia’s Jamal Khashoggi presumed death

More: Intimidation, detention, even murder: World is full of many potential Jamal Khashoggis

In the absence of Turkey making the evidence it says it has more widely available, and Saudi Arabia failing to produce counter-evidence, scrutiny has fallen on Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler. He has jailed hundreds of journalists, activists, officials and even members of his own royal family in a bid to quash dissent. He has also previously been accused of trying to lure other U.S.-resident, Saudi dissidents back home, including Ali Al-Ahmed. “I have not stepped inside a Saudi embassy or consulate in years,” Al-Ahmed told USA TODAY in a recent interview. 

On Thursday, the Washington Post published the last column by Khashoggi, written shortly before he went missing and sent to the newspaper a day after he disappeared by his translator. The column, titled “What the Arab world needs most is free expression,” focuses on the need for a free press in the Middle East.

Khashoggi also laments in the piece that many Arabs, in his view, live in a state of misinformation. Perhaps eerily prescient, he talks about how freedom of the press has been under attack and generally isn’t taken seriously by the international community and as a result reporters were being silenced. “These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community,” Khashoggi writes.

“Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence. As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media.”

More: Can the U.S.-Saudi relationship survive journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s presumed killing?

More: US weapons sales a flashpoint as President Trump presses Saudi Arabia over missing journalist

More: ‘Do this outside’: New lurid claims over how Saudi Arabia’s Jamal Khashoggi presumed death

Contributing: Christal Hayes

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