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Pompeo in Riyadh–Plot Thickens Over Saudi Journalist’s Fate

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The fate of missing Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi is still hanging in the balance, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed for Riyadh to meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday about the man who entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey to obtain documents for his impending marriage but never came out. There was no immediate information on his fate, according to a VOA news report.

The State Department said that the country’s top diplomat made it clear to the Saudis that “learning what happened to Jamal Khashoggi is the primary reason” President Donald Trump dispatched him to Riyadh and the matter “is of great interest to the president.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Tuesday the U.S. should «sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia» over the incident and said he would never again work with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, assailing him as «toxic» and calling him a «wrecking ball.». Photo Credit: C-SPAN

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, responding to a question from CNN’s Laura Jarrett on the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a press conference at the Justice Department, said that “the matter is being given serious evaluation.”

Sessions left open the door to potential US involvement, saying, “The FBI understands its responsibilities and I’m not able to comment on any details of what might be occurring.” He would offer no additional information. He also would not comment on the credibility of the investigation.

VOA reported that the Saudis have rejected Turkish claims that Saudi agents murdered Khashoggi inside the consulate October 2, but the State Department did not say what the monarch and the heir to the throne told Pompeo. The Secretary of State told the Saudi leaders of the importance of conducting “a thorough, transparent and timely investigation” and welcomed Riyadh’s support for Turkish investigators in their probe, the State Department said.

News reports said Saudi Arabia was edging toward acknowledging that Khashoggi was killed after he entered the consulate, according to VOA News and blamed his death on an interrogation gone wrong. Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince in columns written for The Washington Post, had been living in the US in self-imposed exile.

Pompeo met first with King Salman, then twice with the crown prince, including over dinner. As they sat down for their first meeting, the crown prince, in English, told Pompeo, “We are strong and old allies. We face our challenges together — the past, the day of, tomorrow.”

“Absolutely,” Pompeo replied.

Pompeo’s visit to Riyadh came hours after Turkish crime scene investigators finished an inspection of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

While the meetings were going on, Trump, in Washington, said on Twitter, “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!”

But during a 2015 campaign stop, Trump boasted about his business dealings with the Saudis. “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them,” Trump said. “They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

As he dispatched Pompeo to Riyadh on Monday, Trump told reporters at the White House that King Salman’s denials to him about Khashoggi’s fate in a phone call “could not have been stronger.”

But some lawmakers have all but accepted Turkey’s version of the events, that a team of Saudi agents arrived in Istanbul and killed Khashoggi when he went to the consulate to pick up documents he needed to marry his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national who waited in vain for Khashoggi to emerge from the consulate.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Tuesday the U.S. should “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia” over the incident and said he would never again work with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, assailing him as “toxic” and calling him a “wrecking ball.”

The State Department said Pompeo also met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, continuing their conversations from the recent United Nations General Assembly about a range of Middle East issues and U.S.-Saudi concerns. Pompeo briefed Trump and national security adviser John Bolton about his talks.

Pompeo’s visit to Riyadh came hours after Turkish crime scene investigators finished an inspection of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Up until this point, Saudi officials have strongly denied accusations that Khashoggi was murdered, saying instead he left the diplomatic outpost on his own. Neither side has publicly shown clear evidence to back up its claims, and the two governments agreed on a joint working group to probe Khashoggi’s disappearance.

President Trump said King Salman told him in a telephone call Monday that he had no knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.

“Maybe I do not want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers–I mean, who knows?” Trump said.

David Mack, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a former ambassador, told VOA that what Saudi Arabia is accused of would be hard to get away with in the United States, but is possible for Saudi Arabia given its tight controls on the media and discipline instituted by the royal family.

“I suppose possible that Saudi Arabia will be able to sell this, however I think most people would be very dubious that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had not had some hand in the matter or knowledge that it was taking place,” Mack said.

Trump told the CBS news show 60 Minutes on Sunday that Saudi Arabia would face “severe punishment” if it is determined Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate, but Riyadh dismissed the U.S. threat and said it would retaliate if Trump took any action against Saudi Arabia.

In protest of Khashoggi’s disappearance, several businesses leaders have pulled out of next week’s Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” after the annual meeting of world economic interests in Switzerland.

Ina related development, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is urging Saudi Arabia and Turkey to reveal everything they know about the disappearance and possible extrajudicial killing of Khashoggi.

Bachelet is urging both Saudi Arabia and Turkey to conduct a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

The U.N. Rights chief says she wants the diplomatic immunity that was bestowed by the 1963 Vienna Convention to be waived for all Saudi officials. The commissioner’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, tells VOA that Bachelet wants to make sure a full unimpeded forensic investigation can go forward.

“We hope the lifting of immunity is absolute, so they can investigate everything they wish to and everything they feel they need to, both in the consulate, in the consul general’s premises, in the vehicles that were shown on the CCTV footage, and so on,” said Colville. “So, basically the investigators need to be able to investigate everything they wish to.”

Colville says there seems to be clear evidence that Khashoggi entered the consulate and has not been seen since. Therefore, he says the onus for revealing what happened to the journalist is on the Saudi authorities.

International pressure is mounting on Saudi Arabia to come up with answers. More firms are pulling out of a big investment conference scheduled to take place next week in Saudi Arabia.

Thus far, this year alone, 48 journalists have been killed according to a VOA News tally, adding to the thousand killed in the past decade-and-half.

Some died on dangerous reporting assignments in conflict zones as they courted similar risks to combatants and were killed in crossfire or bombings.

They include 9 Afghan reporters, among them three from VOA’s sister public broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

All were killed in the same bombing incident in Kabul in April, likely planned to cause a high media death toll. It was the most lethal attack on the media in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, making the country the deadliest in the world for the press this year.

But others were targeted individually, earmarked by armed groups, criminals, drug-dealers and terrorists — and, more disturbingly, by governments and politicians.

Until recently attacks on journalists more often than not occurred in less advanced countries. But now the threat is shifting to the West, where the media has traditionally been immune from violence and where media freedom is lauded and seen traditionally as an important check on authority and government wrongdoing.

In the past 12 months, three reporters have been killed in the European Union. The murder earlier this month of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova, who was beaten, raped and strangled, may not have been because of her journalism, but that still remains unclear. Days before her murder she hosted a program exploring the defrauding of EU funds by companies operating in Bulgaria.

Marinova aside, observers and analysts have no doubt that Slovakia’s Ján Kuciak, who was shot in his home alongside his fiancée, and Malta’s Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was blown up in a car bomb, were targeted because of their investigative journalism.

Caruana Galizia had been a thorn in the side of the powers that be on the Mediterranean island for years thanks to her probes into government corruption and nepotism and into the links between Malta’s online gambling industry and organized crime.

According to Reporters without Borders, their deaths “have capped a worrying decline for the continent’s democracies” when it comes to the defense of press freedom. “The traditionally safe environment for journalists in Europe has begun to deteriorate,” according to the group, which notes that this year has seen “unprecedented verbal attacks on the media” as well as rising threats to investigative reporters.

Khashoggi’s disappearance has prompted worldwide media outrage and a business backlash.

On Sunday, Afghan journalists joined in the chorus of condemnation, with the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee saying the possible killing of the prominent Saudi journalist was “an inhuman act no matter who or what country was behind such an offense.”

By: Walter Metuth

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