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Pompeo does not raise issue of Khashoggi’s murder in meeting with Saudi King

Posted at 3:06 PM, Jun 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-24 17:06:37-04

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not discuss the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud during their meeting on Monday in Jeddah, a senior State Department official said.

Asked by the traveling press whether the issue of Khashoggi had come up during talks, the official said, “It did not,” adding that “the meeting with the King was brief.”

Pompeo also met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman but it is unclear whether the secretary of state raised the issue during those discussions.

“The Secretary, the King, and the Crown Prince discussed the heightened tensions in the region and the need for stronger maritime security to promote freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz. They also agreed on the importance of working together with the Gulf Cooperation Council to counter the Iranian threat throughout the region and to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its malign behavior,” State Department press secretary Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

Pompeo has raised the issue of Khashoggi’s murder in previous talks with the Saudi King and crown prince.

Khashoggi died after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. Riyadh initially denied any knowledge of the incident, but Saudi officials later claimed that a group of rogue operators, many of whom belong to the crown prince’s inner circle, were responsible for the journalist’s death.

Earlier this month, the United Nations laid out evidence in a report that suggests not only did Saudi officials at the highest level plan and carry out Khashoggi’s killing but also that they carefully planned how best to hide the murder from the international community.

The independent investigation by a UN special rapporteur did not make any conclusions on the guilt of the Saudi crown prince and King but did state that there is “credible evidence meriting further investigation by a proper authority” as to whether the “threshold of criminal responsibility has been met.”

Riyadh has maintained that neither bin Salman nor King Salman knew of the operation to target Khashoggi. US officials, however, have said that such a mission — including 15 men sent from Riyadh — could not have been carried out without the authorization of bin Salman.

Trump won’t say if FBI will investigate

During an interview with NBC News on Sunday, President Donald Trump would not say whether he will follow the UN recommendation to order the FBI to investigate Khashoggi’s death, reasoning that other countries, including Iran, have done worse and asserting that keeping Saudi Arabia’s business with the US is more important than any desire to punish the government for the killing.

“I think it’s been heavily investigated … by everybody,” Trump said, according to a transcript of the interview.

Pressed further on the subject, the President suggested other countries in the Middle East were guilty of worse.

“Here’s where I am, you ready? Iran’s killed many, many people a day. Other countries in the Middle East, this is a hostile place. … If you’re going to look at Saudi Arabia, look at Iran, look at other countries — I won’t mention names — and take a look at what’s happening,” Trump said.

The President also suggested that getting Saudi Arabia’s business is a higher priority than any punishment of the Saudi government for Khashoggi’s killing.

“I only say they spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time, all money, all jobs, buying equipment,” Trump said.

“I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them,’ ” Trump added. “And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.”

Congressional concerns

The Trump administration’s reluctance to address the issue of Khashoggi’s murder and questions about its dealings with Saudi Arabia continue to fuel concerns among congressional lawmakers.

Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers voted to halt the Trump administration’s push to circumvent Congress and expedite $8.1 billion in arms sales to Gulf countries — including Saudi Arabia — by declaring an emergency.

Trump is expected to veto the package of resolutions of disapproval as votes fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed to overrule him. Still the demonstration represented a symbolic showing of the opposition — including from within Trump’s own party — to the administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, following Khashoggi’s killing.

Earlier this month, CNN also reported that the US government had obtained intelligence that Saudi Arabia has significantly escalated its ballistic missile program with the help of China, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

The Trump administration did not initially disclose its knowledge of this classified development to key members of Congress, the sources said, infuriating Democrats, who discovered it outside of regular US government channels and concluded it had been deliberately left out of a series of briefings where they say it should have been presented.

The discovery of the Saudi efforts has heightened concerns among members of Congress over a potential arms race in the Middle East and whether it signals a tacit approval by the Trump administration as it seeks to counter Iran. The intelligence also raises questions about the administration’s commitment to nonproliferation in the Middle East and the extent to which Congress is kept abreast of foreign policy developments in a volatile region.