Mike Pompeo told Saudi Arabia’s crown prince that he had 72 hours to finish his probe into the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi if he wanted to avoid tarnishing the kingdom’s “place on the world stage,” according to Axios.
The Secretary of State met with Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on Tuesday. According to Axios, Pompeo told Salman during their meeting that the Saudi leader needs to “own” the situation surrounding the alleged macabre murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Pompeo also reportedly warned the crown prince that the timeline for dealing with the scandal is “limited” due to increasing global outrage.
Pompeo had previously expressed confidence that the Saudi probe into Khashoggi’s disappearance would be “thorough, complete and transparent.” Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday that he discussed the investigation with the crown prince during their meeting, adding that the pair also emphasized their nations’ “many overlapping interests.”
The terse exchange conflicts with earlier reports, which depicted their meeting as an amiable consultation. “Defending the Saudis is becoming less tenable for Trump by the day, as a flood of reporting supports that Khashoggi was gruesomely murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul,” Axios concluded, adding that “despite the all-smiles photos, it seems like Pompeo had a fairly tense conversation with MBS.”
The case has certainly been a headache for Pompeo. The US secretary of state told reporters on Wednesday that he didn’t want to get into specifics while discussing the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2. The Saudis, coincidentally, are also not keen on broaching the subject.
“I don’t want to talk about any of the facts,” Pompeo said when asked if the Saudis told him if Khashoggi was dead or alive. “They didn’t want to either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way. And I think that’s reasonable thing to do to give them that opportunity. And then we’ll all get to judge. We’ll all get to evaluate the work that they do.”
The Trump administration’s willingness to give the Saudis the benefit of the doubt is hardly surprising, former US diplomat Jim Jatras told RT. According to Jatras, shared animosity towards Iran will help ensure that the strong economic, political and military ties between Washington and Riyadh will remain intact – regardless of who is responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“That is the primary policy that unites Washington with Riyadh, and I think they want to find some way to preserve that. So I think this is a way of emphasizing… that we somehow need the Saudis to confront this very, very ‘evil’ threat coming from Iran.”
While Washington may do everything in its power to protect its close relationship with Riyadh, it “may not be easy” when up against a storm of international criticism over the Khashoggi case, Jatras noted. He added that the “realist” approach towards preserving ties – in order to safeguard lucrative US arms exports, for example – clearly conflicted with Washington’s presumptions of moral superiority when dealing with nations such as Russia and North Korea.
Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Ankara claims to have audio and video evidence proving that he was murdered at the consulate and that his body was smuggled out of the diplomatic compound. Following a search by a Turkish forensics team, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that some “toxic materials” in the consulate had been “painted over.”
Turkish police claim to have found “certain evidence” which proves that the journalist died there. However, these claims have yet to be substantiated by concrete evidence.
Trump has vowed to “severely punish” Riyadh if it is found to have been involved in Khashoggi’s apparent death, but says that Salman forcefully and persuasively denied any involvement or knowledge of the journalist’s disappearance.