United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday refused to blame key US ally Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi even as Riyadh faced new claims he was killed and tortured inside its Istanbul consulate.
After talks with the Saudi leadership in Riyadh marked by expressions of mutual goodwill, Pompeo in Ankara met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose government also remains wary of giving public details about Khashoggi’s fate.
Pro-government Turkish media published gruesome new allegations Khashoggi was killed by being gradually dismembered by a Saudi assassination squad, some of whom the New York Times said were tied to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
But Pompeo declared he did not want “to talk about any of the facts”, while President Donald Trump said innocence must be presumed, drawing a parallel with his US Supreme Court judge nominee who faced sexual assault accusations.
The controversy has blown a massive hole in attempts by Prince Mohammed to promote himself as a modern reformer and led to a spate of cancellations from a major Riyadh investment conference scheduled next week.
Khashoggi, a former regime insider who became critical of Prince Mohammed, has not been seen since he stepped inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to sort out marriage paperwork.
Turkish police on Wednesday began searching the residence of the Saudi consul in Istanbul for their investigation, with forensics experts in white overalls entering the building, an AFP correspondent said.
The Saudi consul Mohammed al-Otaibi left Istanbul for Riyadh on a scheduled Saudia flight Tuesday afternoon, with Ankara insisting he had not been expelled and left by his own choice.
Turkish police on Monday night also undertook an eight-hour search at the consulate itself, taking away soil and DNA samples. Erdogan said toxic material was found which had been “painted over”.
Pompeo came to Ankara after Riyadh where he held a 20-minute talk with King Salman and then a brief meeting and much lengthier dinner with his son Prince Mohammed.
The top US diplomat said that in Saudi Arabia he stressed the “importance of them conducting a complete investigation into the disappearance” and Riyadh had vowed to do this.