The changing story of Khashoggi’s murder

Saoudi Arabia’s explanation of the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has kept changing, but their foreign minister now admits that Khashoggi was murdered. However he says it was ‘a rogue operation’. It is difficult to accept any official Saudi claims given how much they have kept changing.

The Saudis gave up trying to deny they were responsible for Khashoggi’s death, and are now left trying to distance  Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from any responsibility.

Saudi officials had first denied any knowledge of Khasoggi’s disappearance, despite video evidence of him going into their consulate in Istanbul and never being seen again. Under international pressure and condemnation they eventually admitted Khasoggi had died in the consulate but claimed it was as a result of a fight. The now concede he was murdered.

BBC – Khashoggi death: Saudi Arabia says journalist was murdered

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Fox News “the murder” had been a “tremendous mistake” and denied the powerful crown prince had ordered it.

Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Saudis, under intense pressure to explain Khashoggi’s whereabouts, have offered conflicting accounts.

They initially said he had left the consulate on 2 October – but on Friday admitted for the first time he was dead, saying he had been killed in a fight. This claim met widespread scepticism.

Turkish officials believe Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi government, was murdered by a team of Saudi agents inside the building and say they have evidence to prove it.

Adel al-Jubeir’s comments, describing the incident as murder, are some of the most direct to come from a Saudi official.

“We are determined to find out all the facts and we are determined to punish those who are responsible for this murder,” he said.

“The individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority,” he added. “There obviously was a tremendous mistake made, and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up.”

Khashoggi entered the consulate on 2 October. The denials and attempted cover up extended over 20 days, despite being told by US officials to end the crisis ‘quickly’ on 10 October.

NY Times (9 October): Turkish Officials Say Khashoggi Was Killed on Order of Saudi Leadership

Top Turkish security officials have concluded that the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on orders from the highest levels of the royal court, a senior official said Tuesday.

Business Insider: The Saudi crown prince reportedly couldn’t understand the outrage over Khashoggi’s killing

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, the man suspected of ordering the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, could not understand why the Saudi journalist’s disappearance was such a big deal, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Mohammed bin Salman was shocked to see Khashoggi’s disappearance in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul provoke such international outrage, and he called the White House adviser Jared Kushner to ask why, the paper said.

Crown Prince Mohammed called Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, on October 10, The Journal said, eight days after Khashoggi disappeared.

Crown Prince Mohammed asked in English what the outrage was about, the report said, citing two people who were briefed on the conversation.

Kushner and John Bolton, the US national security adviser, reportedly told the crown prince in response that he had to solve the crisis quickly.

Kushner is close to Crown Prince Mohammed and – according to CNN – texts him directly sometimes on WhatsApp. He has not taken a public role in the US response to the Khashoggi crisis, but reports suggest he has advised Trump to stand by Saudi Arabia until the episode blows over.

If this is all true then unless Kushner and Bolton did not inform Donald Trump (that seems very unlikely) then Trump knew what was going on but tried to play down Khasoggi’s disappearance.

The Trump administration appeared reluctant to hold the Saudi leadership responsible for weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Trump has continued to tout billions of dollars’ worth of arms contracts struck between Washington and Riyadh, which he has repeatedly claimed could create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the US.

After Saudi Arabia acknowledged Khashoggi’s death, Trump told The Post that “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies” in the Saudi explanation of the disappearance and death.

He must have known well before the Saudi admission.

But the president said he “would love if he wasn’t responsible,” referring to Crown Prince Mohammed.

Many of the 15 men identified in the Turkish news media as suspects in Khashoggi’s killinghave been seen in the crown prince’s entourage.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised that he would reveal the “naked truth”about Khashoggi’s death on Tuesday.

That could be embarrassing for both Crown Prince Mohammed and Trump (and also Kushner). They both at least look complicit in an inept attempt to cover up the murder.

Guardian (12 October) – Trump: Khashoggi case will not stop $110bn US-Saudi arms trade

Donald Trump has made it clear that whatever the outcome of the inquiry into the disappearance of the journalist from the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, the US will not forgo lucrative arms deals with Riyadh. The president says the possibility of Saudi Arabia sourcing its arms from Russia or China instead is unacceptable.

Vox (21 October) – “It’s not going to create or take away a single job”: why Trump’s excuse on the Saudis doesn’t hold up

When President Donald Trump explained over the past two weeks why he was reluctant to damage the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and murderof dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he kept coming back to one reason: jobs.

“I don’t want to hurt jobs,” Trump said in an interview with 60 Minutes that aired last weekend, explaining that there are “other ways of punishing.”

“Who are we hurting? It’s 500,000 jobs,” he told Fox Business on Wednesday.

“I’d rather keep the million jobs, and I’d find another solution,” he said at a defense roundtable in Arizona on Friday.

But while there’s a multitude of reasons Trump might be hesitant to condemn the Saudi government, tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs from an arms deal with the Saudi government isn’t one of them — at least a legitimate one.

The White House has been conspicuously cautious in its reaction to Khashoggi’s disappearance, even after the government admitted on Friday that he was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul earlier this month. Part of Trump’s explanation — beyond that it’s unfair to consider Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “guilty before proven innocent” — is that a $110 billion arms deal would be at risk. Trump claims the arms deal will lead to thousands of jobs, and it’s a risk he’s not willing to take.

There could also be other economic reasons leading Trump to avoid destabilizing the relationship — including Saudi influence over the world’s supply of oil, which would be particularly crucial if the US imposes sanctions on Iran.

“What’s at stake is global oil price stability,” Ashley Peterson, a senior oil market analyst at energy advisory firm Stratas Advisors, told me. “Saudi Arabia excels at talking up and talking down the oil market.”

But:

“They have the oil card and the arms sales card, neither of which, to me, is particularly compelling in these circumstances,” Chollet, from the German Marshall Fund, said.

Beyond the economic factors in play here, there are also geopolitical considerations — it also goes into the broader context of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal.

As the New York Times’s David Sanger pointed out, Saudi Arabia is an important player in the United States’ plan to go after Iran. The White House is hoping the Saudis will help it keep oil prices from spiking when it reimposes sanctions on Iran, including cutting off Iranian oil exports.

As usual with international issues things are complicated. And in any case, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, oil and Iran are all interrelated.

The death of one journalist is just a nuisance – but it could become a very influential nuisance.

 

 

Alarming claims and revelations in killing of Saudi journalist

Claims and revelations over the apparent killing of a Saudi dissident in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey are quite alarming.

New York Times: Turkish Officials Say Khashoggi Was Killed on Order of Saudi Leadership

Top Turkish security officials have concluded that the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on orders from the highest levels of the royal court, a senior official said Tuesday.

The official described a quick and complex operation in which Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulateby a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.

Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have denied the allegations, insisting that Mr. Khashoggi left the consulate freely shortly after he arrived. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has demanded that the Saudis provide evidence proving their claim.

The security establishment concluded that Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was directed from the top because only the most senior Saudi leaders could order an operation of such scale and complexity, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential briefings.

Fifteen Saudi agents had arrived on two charter flights last Tuesday, the day Mr. Khashoggi disappeared, the official said.

All 15 left just a few hours later, and Turkey has now identified the roles that most or all of them held in the Saudi government or security services, the official said. One was an autopsy expert, presumably there to help dismember the body, the official said.

A publication with close ties to Mr. Erdogan’s government, the newspaper Sabah, reported Tuesday that unnamed officials had said the police were examining the possibility that Mr. Khashoggi had been abducted and not killed, possibly with the help of another country’s intelligence officers.

The official who spoke about Mr. Khashoggi’s killing said that report and other similar ones were incorrect and were probably the result of the limited information shared among different agencies within the Turkish government.

Another person briefed on the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential details, told The Times on Saturday that Turkish intelligence had obtained a video of the killing, made by the Saudis to prove that it had occurred.

A commentator close to Mr. Erdogan’s government said so publicly on Tuesday.

“There is a video of the moment of him being killed,” Kemal Ozturk, a columnist in a pro-government newspaper and the former head of a semiofficial news agency, said in an interview on a pro-government television network, citing unnamed security officials.

So alarming multiple claims, some disputed.

Fox News: US intercepted Saudi plans to capture missing journalist, report says

U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly intercepted Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The Washington Post is reporting that before the journalist disappeared on Oct. 2, Saudi officials discussed a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia.

It remains unclear if the Saudi government intended to arrest or kill the journalist known for his writings criticizing the Saudi leadership, or whether the U.S. government informed Khashoggi that he was the target of the Saudi government, the report said.

Questions about what the US did, and if they knew whether they did anything to try to prevent what seemed about to happen.

The journalist’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, wrote an op-ed on Tuesday expressing hope her man is still alive. “Although my hope slowly fades away each passing day, I remain confident that Jamal is still alive,” she wrote. “Perhaps I’m simply trying to hide from the thought that I have lost a great man whose love I had earned.”

Cengiz urged President Trump and his wife Melania Trump to help shed a light on the journalist’s disappearance. “At this time, I implore President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance,” she wrote.

Washington Post: Trump wants answers about missing Saudi writer

President Donald Trump says the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and wants to bring his fiancée to the White House.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday that he has a call in to his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

Trump says nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead.

He says he’s spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

It certainly looks like a bad situation. And a tricky one for the US – they supply a lot of weaponry to Saudi Arabia: U.S. sells 6,700 missiles to Saudi Arabia as part of $1 billion deal:

“This proposed sale will support U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by improving the security of a friendly country which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East,” the State Department said, adding that the deal “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

The murder (or abduction) of Khashoggi puts the US in a difficult position.

Haaretz: Trump’s Saudi Policy Lets MBS Think He Can Get Away With Murder, ex-U.S. Officials Say

As fears grow about fate of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, whom Turkish authorities believe was killed in Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week, experts warn that White House silence is part of the problem

 Former U.S. officials believe the Trump administration’s friendly policy toward Saudi Arabia has caused its leaders to believe they face no consequences for their actions. The fears were raised following the mysterious disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last week, amid reports that he was murdered while visiting Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.

The Trump administration has made a noticeable effort to improve America’s relations with Saudi Arabia, which became tense during President Barack Obama’s time in office. Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first foreign visit as president, in May 2017, and the Saudi leadership vocally supported his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

A close relationship has also developed between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

A former Middle East adviser to both Republican and Democratic administrations:

Miller’s “just about anything” statement refers to a series of steps previously taken by the crown prince to oppress opposition to his rule. Over the past year, he has had hundreds of Saudi businessmen and former officials arrested without due process. His government has also jailed women’s rights and anti-corruption activists, accusing them of a conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Crown Prince Mohammed has also intensified Saudi Arabia’s war against Iran and its proxies in Yemen – a war that has turned into a full-blown humanitarian disaster. The Saudis also detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri last November, reportedly holding him against his will and forcing him to resign as Lebanese premier (Hariri walked back that decision when back in Beirut).

As far as is known, the Trump administration didn’t criticize or warn Saudi Arabia about any of these policies. In fact, it actively supported and encouraged some of them. When the Saudi leadership rounded up hundreds of political rivals and held them at a Riyadh hotel-cum-interim prison, Trump tweeted:

That message was well received in Riyadh. “The Trump administration made it clear from early on that it had little interest in protecting human rights, except when it comes to the rights of Christian minorities,” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former State Department official who is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told Haaretz.

Trump, she added, “said very explicitly that he is not interested in telling other countries how to run [their] government. Could this be seen as a green light for oppressive actions? Certainly when compared to the previous policies of every American president since the end of World War II.”

So the actions of Saudi Arabia in relation to Khashoggi are in the spotlight, but what Trump and his administration has done and does now is also very important.