SAUDI ARABIA once again changed its story about Jamal Khashoggi, admitting on Thursday he was the victim of a premeditated murder and not, as it said less than a week earlier , the accidental casualty of a “brawl.” But that doesn’t mean the regime of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has finally chosen to come clean about the Oct. 2 death of the Post contributing columnist.
Turkey and Western allies of Riyadh have voiced deep doubt toward Saudi explanations of the killing. Turkey has dismissed Saudi efforts to blame rogue operatives and urged the kingdom to search “top to bottom” for those responsible for the killing.
“Information from the Turkish side affirms that the suspects in Khashoggi’s case premeditated their crime,” a statement from the Saudi public prosecutor said.
Saudi prosecutors are interrogating suspects on the basis of information provided by a joint Saudi-Turkish task force, the statement carried by the Saudi state news agency added.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the two discussed the steps needed to bring to light all aspects of the killing, Saudi and Turkish media said on Wednesday.
Separately, CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed Trump on the latest developments in the investigation of the killing after a fact-finding mission to Turkey.
As the new Saudi admission came on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Riyadh still needed to provide answers to remaining questions, such as who ordered the hit and what happened to Khashoggi’s body.
“Where is (the body)? You admit they did it, but why are they not saying (where)?” Cavusoglu said at a press conference in Ankara. “His family also wants to know and pay their final tribute.”
This is a big test for Trump
Trump has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to take any actions that could imperil lucrative arms sales to Riyadh that could be worth $110 billion. What’s more, he has noted that Khashoggi was a US resident, not a citizen, suggesting that his death doesn’t merit a stern response from America.
But last week, he told reporters that it “certainly looks” like Khashoggi is dead, and vowed “severe” consequences if Saudi royals were behind the killing. It’s unclear what, exactly, those reprimands might be. As of now, the US has only canceled Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s visit to a swanky Saudi conference this week and revoked the visas of 21 Saudi officials suspected of participating in the murder.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Trump allies, have called for a change in the US-Saudi relationship. Some have openly blamed MBS, the kingdom’s de facto leader, for the crime.
“You’ll never convince me that he didn’t do this,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Sunday. Trump hasn’t gone that far, but on Wednesday he said if anyone would know about what happened to Khashoggi, MBS would. “The prince runs things over there,” he added.
Should the US choose to downgrade its relationship with Saudi Arabia — the centerpiece of its Middle East strategy and greatest counterweight to Iran — it would prove a turning point in Trump’s foreign policy. Washington has steadfastly stood by the kingdom, despite its brutal war in Yemen and jailing of human rights activists.
That means all eyes will be on Trump in the coming hours and days as he formulates a response — and decides once and for all what he believes happened to Khashoggi.