WASHINGTON US President Donald Trump has accused Saudi Arabia of lying about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, his strongest comments to date on the affair as pressure was building Sunday on the administration to strike a tougher line.
In an interview with the Washington Post published late Saturday, Trump stepped back from his stance that Saudi Arabias latest explanation for the death of the journalist inside their Istanbul consulate was credible, but said he remained confident in the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Obviously theres been deception and theres been lies, he said of the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh.
Saudi officials originally said Khashoggi, who entered the diplomatic mission on October 2, had left unharmed, before announcing Friday he was killed inside the building in what they described as an altercation.
Their stories are all over the place, added Trump.
Saudi Arabia faced a growing chorus of incredulity Sunday, with world powers demanding answers. British and French officials denounced the latest Saudi explanation as insufficient. Canadas foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said the Saudi version lacked consistency and credibility.
Closer to home, pressure continued to grow on Trump to take a stronger stance against Saudi Arabia, the worlds biggest oil exporter and a key regional power.
Several senior members of Trumps Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed, the kingdoms de facto ruler, was linked to the killing, and one called for a collective Western response if a link is proved.
But Trump stopped far short of calling for the prince to be replaced, emphasizing as he has before how important the US-Saudi relationship is to Washingtons regional strategic goals.
He described the 33-year-old prince, widely known as MBS, as a strong person; he has very good control.
Hes seen as a person who can keep things under check, added Trump. I mean that in a positive way.
Trump added that he has yet to be shown any evidence by intelligence officials that would make him believe MBS had any direct role.
Nobody has told me hes responsible. Nobody has told me hes not responsible. We havent reached that point. I havent heard either way, the president said.
There is a possibility he found out about it afterward. It could be something in the building went badly awry. It could be thats when he found out about it. He could have known they were bringing him back to Saudi Arabia.
Amid Trumps apparent equivocations, several key Republicans demanded a tougher stance.
Asked if he thought Prince Mohammed was behind the killing, a fellow Republican, Senator Bob Corker, told CNN: Yes, I think he did it. Lets finish this investigation.
Corker, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, added that if the prince is implicated, There should be a collective response.
I think youre going to see the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany working collectively with others if he did this to respond in an appropriate way.
Perhaps the strongest words came from Lindsay Graham, a strong Trump ally in the Senate who called for Prince Mohammed to be removed.
I would like to punish those involved. Its impossible to believe the crown prince wasnt involved. I dont mind military sales but I object to business with the current leadership, he said.
This behaviour is outside the norm to the point that the people involved need to be removed in my view. Saudi Arabia is a country and MBS is a person. Im willing to separate the two, he continued, accusing the prince of acting in a barbaric fashion.
Democrats have repeatedly lashed out at Trumps response as weak and indecisive, and they said his latest reaction fell short as well.
Barring an unlikely confession from Prince Mohammed, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said Sunday, the president is going to accept the crown princes denials like hes accepted Putins denials and Kim Jong-Uns denials.
MBS guard transported part of Khashoggi’s body to Saudi Arabia
Turkish authorities believe that one of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)’s bodyguards transferred part of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s body to Riyadh, sources say.
Maher Abdulaziz Mutrib, an intelligence officer who accompanied MBS on trips abroad, is thought to have carried the body parts in a large bag and left Turkey on a private jet that departed at 18:20 local time on October 2, the day of Khashoggi’s death, the sources told Middle East Eye.
Mutrib was identified as one of the 15-member Saudi team that is believed to have been involved in the killing of the Saudi journalist.
His luggage was not checked as he passed through the VIP lounge at Ataturk Airport and neither was the plane which took off before the alarm was raised. The sources said a second plane was inspected thoroughly and nothing was found.
Mutrib, who has a diplomatic passport, was reportedly in a hurry.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday Turkey will reveal the “naked truth” about the dissident journalist’s killing, adding he will make a full new statement on the case when he addresses parliament on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia last week admitted that the critic had died in the consulate after “discussions” turned into “a brawl and a fist fight.” It followed Saudi Arabia’s denial for two weeks of its role in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
An hour later, another Saudi official attributed the death to a chokehold.
Khashoggi was a Washington Post columnist and lived in the US, having fled Saudi Arabia last September.
Saudi Arabia says it does not know the body’s whereabouts, with anonymous officials saying it was rolled into a carpet and given to a “local collaborator” to be disposed of, a claim dismissed by Turkish sources.
A Turkish source on Sunday said Khashoggi’s body was cut into 15 pieces and that the squad “did not roll anything up in anything.”
Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, who has been identified as the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department, reportedly cut Khashoggis body with a bone saw while he was still alive.
The Turkish prosecutor-general has reportedly obtained sufficient evidence to charge each of the 15 suspects with murder, but he is waiting until the body is discovered before issuing his report.
The murder has sparked global outcry, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowing on Sunday to suspend arms exports to Riyadh until uncertainty over the fate of Khashoggi vanishes.
“First, we condemn this act in the strongest terms,” she said at a news conference on Sunday. “Second, there is an urgent need to clarify what happened – we are far from this having been cleared up and those responsible held to account.”
Britain, France and Germany also urged Saudi Arabia to provide “credible” facts for its explanation about the killing of Khashoggi.
“Nothing can justify this killing and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” the three countries said in a joint statement on Sunday.
US President Donald Trump also delivered his strongest comments yet about the affair in an interview with the Washington Post, saying, Obviously, theres been deception and theres been lies.
Pak cannot afford to snub Saudis over Khashoggi killing: Imran Khan
Newly installed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has told Middle East Eye that his country must continue to prioritise good relations with Saudi Arabia despite the killing of Jamal Khashoggi because of its dire economic crisis.
Khan is due to travel to Riyadh on Tuesday to attend an investment summit that has been boycotted by many western officials and companies following the death of the journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.
And in his first interview with foreign journalists since taking office in August, Khan admitted that he could not afford not to attend.
Though shocked by Khashoggis killing, he said the Pakistani government needed urgent access to Saudi loans to avoid defaulting on record levels of debt within months.
Were desperate at the moment, Khan said.
But Khan called on the US to drop its sanctions against Iran, Saudi Arabias bitter regional rival, which he said had also been detrimental to the economy of neighbouring Pakistan.
And he urged US President Donald Trump to stop seeking to provoke a conflict there, and suggested that his government could play a mediating role between Tehran and Riyadh.
The last thing the Muslim world needs is another conflict. The Trump administration is moving towards one, he said.
Khan also urged western and Arab governments to reopen their embassies in Damascus, now that pro-Syrian government forces have reclaimed most of the country after seven years of civil war.
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