18 November 2018

Trump reluctant to abandon Riyadh over missing journalist, wants evidence

KONFRONTASI- U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he did not want to abandon close ally Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of a Saudi journalist and government critic, and he needed to see evidence to prove Turkish claims he was killed by Saudi agents.

Trump said he was waiting for a full report on what had happened to Jamal Khashoggi from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom he sent to Saudi Arabia and Turkey to meet with officials over the disappearance.

Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was critical of the authoritarian kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and his body removed. The Saudis have denied the allegations.

Turkish sources have told Reuters the authorities have an audio recording indicating Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. He has not been seen since entering the building.

Turkey’s pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper on Wednesday published what it said were details from audio recordings that purported to document Khashoggi’s torture and interrogation.

Khashoggi was killed within minutes and his torturers severed his fingers during the interrogation, the newspaper said. His killers later beheaded and dismembered him, it said.

Turkey has not shared with the U.S. government or European allies graphic audio or video evidence, seven U.S. and European security officials told Reuters. The United States and allies have collected some intelligence through their own sources and methods, which partly confirms news reports based on leaks of audio recordings, four of the sources said.

A New York Times report cited a senior Turkish official confirming the details published by Yeni Safak. Two Turkish government officials contacted by Reuters declined to confirm the report.

Trump, who has forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia and the 33-year-old crown prince, said the United States has asked Turkey for any audio or video evidence.

Asked in a Fox Business Network interview if Washington could abandon Riyadh, Trump said: “I do not want to do that.”

Trump reiterated his hopes that Saudi leaders were not involved in his disappearance of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident.

“We have asked for it, if it exists ... I’m not sure yet that it exists, probably does, possibly does,” he later told reporters when asked about audio or video evidence.

U.S. media outlets have reported that Riyadh, despite its earlier denials of involvement, 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.

Trump has appeared unwilling to distance himself too much from the Saudis, citing Riyadh’s role in countering Iranian influence in the region - and tens of billions of dollars in potential arms deals.

Other Western nations, although expressing concern about the incident, face a similar delicate situation in their dealings with the world’s top oil exporter.

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