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Pompeo seeks answers from Saudi King on missing journalist

Riyadh

16-October-2018

 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Crown Prince and other key officials here on Tuesday over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi who Turkish officials say was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Pompeo's visit came as diplomatic pressure mounted on Riyadh to give a fuller explanation in the case. According to a report in CNN, Saudi Arabia was preparing to acknowledge that Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a Saudi royal insider-turned-critic, was killed during an interrogation that went wrong. 

The journalist's family has called for an international inquiry into his disappearance.

Pompeo had a short discussion with King Salman before a longer meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler. He was due to meet the Crown Prince again for dinner.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Pompeo "thanked the King for his commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation" of the Khashoggi case and expressed "concern" about the case to the Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, said Turkish officials, who searched the consulate for nine hours on Monday, were looking into "toxic" and "painted over material" as part of their probe. 

Turkish investigators were also expected to carry out a search of the Saudi Consul General's residence in Istanbul. 

Khashoggi was last seen in public when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 for paperwork needed for his planned marriage.

Turkish intelligence officials say they have audio and visual evidence that shows Khashoggi, a permanent resident of the US in self-imposed exile, was killed inside the consulate.

However, Saudi authorities maintain that Khashoggi left the consulate the same afternoon but have provided no evidence to support the claim.

The case has created a diplomatic rift between Saudi Arabia and the West and led to international firms pulling out of a high-profile summit in Riyadh. The CEOs of three top banks -- Standard Chartered, HSBC and Credit Suisse -- announced their withdrawal from the conference.

In Riyadh, Pompeo was greeted by the Saudi Foreign Minister. Trump said Pompeo had license to travel wherever necessary, including Turkey, to investigate what happened.

The US President had dispatched Pompeo to Riyadh after speaking with King Salman on phone on Monday.

Speaking to reporters, Trump later said he had talked for about 20 minutes with the King and that Salman had firmly denied the kingdom's involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance.

Trump waffled on the issue, suggesting the journalist may have been murdered by "rogue killers" but fell short of pointing a finger at Saudi Arabia, one of Washington's principal allies in the Middle East. 

"I don't want to get into his (the King's) mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers," Trump said. "Who knows? We're going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial."

Khashoggi's fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who waited outside the consulate and says she did not see him re-emerge, tweeted a Quranic verse on Tuesday promising "eternal hellfire" for the killers of "deliberate believers".

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also urged Saudi Arabia and Turkey to make public all they knew about Khashoggi's disappearance and lift the immunity of officials who might be involved in the case.

"... I believe the inviolability or immunity of the relevant premises and officials bestowed by treaties such as the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations should be waived immediately," Bachelet said in a statement.-IANS