Donald Trump has said for the first time that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman could have been involved in the operation to kill the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, noting that “the prince is running things over there” in Riyadh.
The comments, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, appeared to mark a shift in the US president’s view of Khashoggi’s murder on 2 October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Trump has previously appeared to take Saudi royal denials of involvement at face value, but on a day the state department announced it would revoked the visas of Saudi officials implicated in the writer’s death, sanctions on Wednesday matched by the UK, he appeared to give the benefit of the doubt to King Salman but not necessarily to his powerful son.
An adviser to Turkey’s President, meanwhile, said Prince Mohammed had “blood on his hands” over Mr Khashoggi, the bluntest language yet from someone linked to Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the de facto ruler of the kingdom in connection with the death.
The Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the remarks by Mr Trump and the Erdogan adviser.
Riyadh has blamed a “rogue operation” for the death of the prominent Saudi journalist, a critic of the Crown Prince, and said Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the killing.
Mr Trump told the Journal he wanted to believe the prince when he said that lower-level officials were to blame for the killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
But he suggested responsibility lay higher up: “Well, the prince is running things over there, more so at this stage. He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.”
The death of Mr Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, has sparked global outrage and threatened relations between Riyadh and Washington as well as other Western nations.
For Saudi Arabia’s allies, the burning question has been whether they believe that Prince Mohammed , who has painted himself as a reformer, has any culpability in the killing, a possibility raised by several US lawmakers.