Trump says 'certainly looks' as if Khashoggi is dead as pressure mounts on Saudi Arabia
October 18 at 5:46 PM
ISTANBUL â" President Trump said Thursday it appears that Jamal Khashoggi is dead and warned that his administration could consider âvery severeâ measures against Saudi Arabia, sharply raising pressures on the kingdom as it prepares its own accounting of the journalistâs disappearance.
Trumpâs remarks reflect the vacillating strategies and views in the White House over its response and possible punishments toward one of its key Middle East allies.
Trump has said any U.S. actions over Khashoggiâs disappearance must take into account the security and defense ties the United States has with the kingdom. But Trump also must contend with the international furor and calls within Republican ranks to take a harder line on Saudi Arabia.
As he boarded a flight to Montana for a political rally, Trump was asked by a journali st whether he believed Khashoggi was dead.
âIt certainly looks that way to me,â he said. âItâs very sad.â
He added that Saudi Arabia could face a âvery severeâ U.S. response depending on the results of the self-run investigation by the kingdom into the disappearance of Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and Washington Post contributing columnist. Khashoggi was last seen in public entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
âI mean, itâs bad, bad stuff. But weâll see what happens,â Trump said.
The United States is caught squarely between two long-standing partners.
Turkish officials say evidence indicated that Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents. Saudi leaders deny having any knowledge of Khashoggiâs fate but promised to conduct their own inquiry into the case.
It is uncertain, however, whether a self-run inquest or conclusions by the Saudis could quell international anger over Khashoggiâs disappearance.
Administration officials, meanwhile, have told Trump that the Saudis may come up with a narrative that may blame someone else in the kingdom and try to insulate King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the countries de facto ruler. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.
But such a finding by Saudi Arabia could meet immediate skepticism about a country where the rulers typically are involved in every major decision.
Trump said the White House expected to have a Saudi account of the Khashoggi case âvery soon.â
[Mnuchin joins international snub of Saudi investor conference]
âAnd I think weâll be making a statement, a very strong statement,â he added. âBut, weâre waiting for the results of about three different investigations, and we should be able to get to the bottom fairly soon.â
The comments also point to a possible tougher stance by the White House after it sent a ran ge of conflicting signals. In the past week, Trump left open the idea that ârogue killersâ had carried out a possible attack on Khashoggi, and also warned against a rush to judgment of the Saudi rulers.
Earlier Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the White House to allow âa few more daysâ for Saudi Arabia to issue its own report on Khashoggi, even as Turkish police sharply expanded their investigation.
Turkish authorities said they will search at least two rural areas outside Istanbul, local news agencies and a Turkish official said.
But in the administrationâs first formal rebuke of Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi case, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that he would join many other political leaders and business executives who are canceling their participation in a major investment forum in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, next week.
Mnuchin made the announcement after consulting with Trump and Pompeo. Hours earlier, finance chiefs from France, Britain and the Netherlands announced that they would not attend the Riyadh conference.
Trump eventually signed off on Mnuchin skipping the conference.
âYou canât give a Good Housekeeping seal of approval to the Saudis by letting Mnuchin go to the conference,â said one administration adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.
Referring to the separate Turkish investigation, Pompeo said, âWe do believe that between these two efforts, a complete picture will emerge for what actually transpired here.â That, he said, would inform âhow or if the United States should respond to the incident.â
Asked why the Saudis should be trusted to conduct a fair investigation, Pompeo â" who held talks this week in Riyadh and in the Turkish capital, Ankara â" said only that U.S. officials would evaluate the Saudi report on whether âitâs truly accurate, fair and transparentâ as promised during Po mpeoâs talks in Riyadh.
In Turkey, meanwhile, police exploring the disappearance of 59-year-old Khashoggi â" who they believe was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by a team of agents from Saudi Arabia â" are reviewing security footage from the entrances to Istanbulâs Belgrad Forest, roughly 10 miles north of the city center, Turkish media reported.
[Secret recordings give insight into Saudi attempts to silence critics]
They also expect to search farmland in Turkeyâs Yalova province, which is about 60 miles from Istanbul.
A Turkish official confirmed that investigators had broadened their search for Khashoggiâs body to âgardensâ around the Istanbul area. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the case.
Up until now, the inquiry has focused on the consulate in Istanbulâs Levent district and the nearby residence of the Saudi consul general, Mohammed al-Otaibi, who left Turkey this week.
Still, leaks from Turkish officials to foreign and local media outlets have kept the spotlight on the Khashoggi affair.
Turkeyâs pro-government Sabah newspaper published Thursday what it said were images from closed-circuit television of Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb â" an apparent member of the Saudi security services who may have previously traveled with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman â" outside the consulate on the day Khashoggi went missing. Other images show Mutreb checking out of an Istanbul hotel and at Istanbulâs Ataturk Airport hours after Khashoggi was last seen in public.
Mutreb also appears to have been photographed with the crown prince on trips to France, Spain and the United States. A British document from 2007 lists a man by the same name working as a diplomat in London.
[Amid global outrage over Khashoggi, Trump takes softer path]
âThere are a lot of stories out there about what has happened,â Pom peo said. âWe just are going to allow the process to move forward, allow the facts to unfold, and as they unfold, as we make a determination for ourselves about what happened there based on the facts that are presented to us, then the United States will determine what the appropriate response might be.â
Echoing Trump from recent days, Pompeo also said U.S. leaders should be âmindfulâ of the United Statesâ âlong strategic relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.â He called the kingdom an âimportant counterterrorism partner.â
Turkish investigators have said they believe that Khashoggi was killed by a 15-man Saudi hit team soon after he entered the consulate on an administrative errand on Oct. 2 and was subsequently dismembered.
As early as a week after Khashoggi was last seen in public, Turkish authorities were already investigating the idea that the Saudi team drove around Istanbul looking for parks and open areas to possibly dispose of th e body, a Turkish security official said last week.
On Thursday, investigators left the consulate after a second search of the grounds, Turkeyâs private DHA news agency reported. Turkey has not formally released any evidence to support claims that a team of Saudi agents killed Khashoggi.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin used the Khashoggi case to take a swipe at the Trump administrationâs cautious approach.
At a foreign-policy conference in the Black Sea resort Sochi, Putin said that while the West was quick to punish Moscow after the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England in March â" a case in which the Kremlin denies any role â" things look very different in the aftermath of the apparent murder of Khashoggi.
âThereâs no proof in regards to Russia, but steps are taken,â Putin said. âHere, people say that a murder happened in Istanbul, but no steps are taken. A single approach needs to be figured out to these kinds of problems.â
email@example.com@washpost.com Wagner reported from Washington. Kareem Fahim and Zeynep Karatas in Istanbul, Anton Troianovski in Moscow and Josh Dawsey and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.
Crown prince under scrutiny in journalistâs disappearance even as Saudis search for exculpatory explanation
Saudi Arabia transfers $100 million to U.S. amid crisis over Khashoggi
Todayâs coverage from Post correspondents around the world
Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign newsSource: Google News Saudi Arabia | Netizen 24 Saudi Arabia