October 17, 2018 / 5:12 AM / 2 months ago

Pompeo says Saudis committed to complete probe into journalist's disappearance

ANKARA, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has committed to conducting a complete investigation into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday before departing the kingdom for Turkey.

Pompeo said he would meet with President Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish capital Ankara, two weeks after Khashoggi vanished when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to collect documents he needed for his planned marriage.

Earlier, President Donald Trump gave Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt in Khashoggi’s disappearance, while U.S. lawmakers pointed the finger at the Saudi leadership and Western pressure mounted on Riyadh to provide answers.

In Saudi Arabia, Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman, the crown prince and the foreign minister.

“In each of those meetings I stressed the importance of them conducting a complete investigation into the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. They made a commitment to do that,” he told reporters travelling with him after boarding the plane for Ankara.

“They said it would be a thorough, complete and transparent investigation,” he said. “They indicated they understood that getting that done in a timely, rapid fashion so they could begin to answer important questions.”

Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi was murdered and his body removed, which the Saudis have strongly denied. Khashoggi was a U.S. resident who wrote columns for the Washington Post and he was critical of the Saudi government, calling for reforms.

Earlier, in a Twitter post, Trump said Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman denied knowing what happened in the Saudi consulate.

“I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump told the Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that.”

How the crown prince, often referred to as MbS, emerges when the dust settles over Khashoggi’s disappearance 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 lies with MbS for Khashoggi.

“They made no exceptions to who they would hold accountable. They were very clear: they understand the important of this issue, they are determined to get to the bottom of it,” Pompeo told reporters.

Asked whether they said Khashoggi was alive or dead, Pompeo said: “They didn’t talk about any of the facts.”

MbS, who has enjoyed a close relationship with the Trump administration, has painted himself as the face of a new, vibrant Saudi Arabia, diversifying its economy away from reliance on oil and making some social changes.

But there has been mounting criticism of some of the prince’s moves.

These include Riyadh’s involvement in the war in Yemen, the arrest of women activists and a diplomatic dispute with Canada. The kingdom also denied an assertion by France that it held Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri captive in November 2017.

Despite Western concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Trump still says he is unwilling to pull out of weapons sales agreements with Riyadh. (Reporting by Makini Brice, Leah Millis and Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

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