US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he does not want to walk away from Saudi Arabia despite concerns about a missing Saudi journalist, as pressure mounted on the kingdom to answer Turkish allegations he was killed in Istanbul.
“I do not want to do that,” Trump said in an interview on Fox Business Network when asked if the United States would walk away from its Gulf ally, reiterating his hopes that Saudi leaders were not involved in the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump’s top diplomat Mike Pompeo meanwhile said Riyadh should be given a few more days to complete a probe into the disappearance of the veteran journalist, a prominent critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October and his body removed. Turkish sources have told Reuters the authorities have an audio recording indicating Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.
The Saudis have strongly denied those allegations, but US media outlets have reported they will acknowledge he was killed in a botched interrogation. Trump has speculated without providing evidence that “rogue killers” could be responsible.
How the crown prince emerges from the crisis is a test of how the West will deal with Saudi Arabia in the future. At issue will be to what extent the West believes responsibility for Khashoggi lies with the powerful young ruler.
Pompeo met Turkey’s president and foreign minister to discuss Khashoggi’s disappearance, a day after Trump gave Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt while US lawmakers pointed the finger at the Saudi leadership.
“They’re going to do an investigation, and when the investigation comes out we’ll evaluate it. It’s not about the benefit of the doubt,” Pompeo told reporters travelling with him in Brussels, hours after his visit to Turkey.
“It’s reasonable to give them a handful of days more to complete it so they get it right so that it’s thorough and complete and that’s what they’ve indicated they need, and then we’ll get to see it, we’ll evaluate it on a factual, straight-up basis.”
Dispatched by Trump to address the crisis, Pompeo visited Riyadh on Tuesday for talks with Saudi King Salman and his Crown Prince on a visit to Riyadh. A State Department spokeswoman confirmed that Pompeo had not heard any audio recording purporting to indicate Khashoggi was killed.
A U.S. resident, Khashoggi vanished during a visit to the consulate on 2 October to collect marriage documents. A team of Turkish investigators entered the Saudi consul’s residence on Wednesday after delays. Their search included the roof and garage, and employed a drone to surveil the premises.