US President Donald Trump is “not satisfied” by the ever-changing explanations by Saudi Arabia about the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, as he tip-toed back support for a key ally.
Trump’s comments on Monday came a day before a speech by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pledged to reveal “in detail” facts about the killing of the journalist, who worked for the Washington Post newspaper.
Khashoggi, 59, was last seen on October 2 when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork in order to get married to his Turkish fiancee.
After two weeks of denying any knowledge of his whereabouts, Riyadh over the weekend admitted he was killed there, blaming a fistfight and a “rogue operation,” and saying 18 people in Saudi Arabia were detained.
However, there has been widespread scepticism, in part as Turkey continues to selectively leak information to media outlets, including allegations Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered by a designated 15 members hit-squad. The leaks claim there are recordings.
In part, critics doubt the Saudis would have been conducting any operations in their consulate directed against a prominent journalist without the knowledge of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, though the official narrative paints him as totally unaware and unconnected.
“I am not satisfied with what I heard,” Trump told reporters in Washington. “We are going to get to the bottom of it.”
The president said he had teams in Saudi Arabia and Turkey who were due to return to the US within the next day.
“We’re going to know a lot in the next two days over the Saudi situation,” he said.
Several Turkish prosecutors interrogated Monday five alleged witnesses to Khashoggi’s death, all of whom are consulate employees, state news agency Anadolu reported.
More than 20 other witnesses, including Turks and foreigners, were set to be questioned over the course of the day.
One member of the 15-man team suspected of carrying out the killing was seen on surveillance leaving the consulate while wearing Khashoggi’s clothes, a fake beard and glasses, CNN reported, citing law enforcement footage it obtained.
Western powers were consulting about how to proceed with Saudi relations, including potentially cutting arms sales, amid the outcry over the case.
Anadolu had reported Trump talked with Erdogan by phone on Sunday. On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the killing with his US counterpart, the Elysee Palace said.
Until the full details of what happened become clear, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday there would be no further weapons exports to Saudi Arabia.
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier called for Europe to stand together and unite on a position after the death of Khashoggi.
“There will be no positive consequences if we’re the only ones halting exports, and the other countries fill that gap,” Altmaier told the German broadcaster ZDF.
EU member states as a whole are also consulting on the Khashoggi case, said the bloc’s foreign policy spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, but arms exports would be a matter for individual states.
British Prime Minister Theresa May came under pressure to also halt British arms sales to Saudi Arabia on Monday.
“Our indulgence of the Saudi monarchy has gone on long enough,” Emily Thornberry, the opposition Labour party’s shadow foreign secretary, told the BBC.
Many big names in government, industry and other sectors have pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative Conference (FII) in Riyadh this week- dubbed Davos in the Desert – casting doubts over the event, which is being hosted by the embattled Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin met with the Saudi crown prince Mohammed late Monday in Riyadh, according to the Saudi foreign ministry, which released a photo of the face-to-face.
The crown prince “stresses the importance of Saudi-US strategic partnership,” the ministry said.
Mnuchin was among the high-profile guests to withdraw from the investment forum but he headed to Riyadh anyway for talks with the monarchy’s leadership.
Lobby groups close to the Saudi royal family are insisted the stability of the kingdom depends on the crown prince and not disrupted his rule over this one event.
However, the crisis over Khashoggi has also brought back to the spotlight Riyadh’s ruthless war against Yemen and crackdowns against dissidents at home. In the US, the involvement of Saudis in the September 11, 2001 attacks is being highlighted.