WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump threatened Riyadh on Saturday with “severe punishment” if a journalist was killed inside its Istanbul consulate, as Saudi officials were to hold talks in Turkey about his fate.
With the mystery over Jamal Khashoggi unresolved 11 days after he walked into the consulate and failed to reappear, a pro-government Turkish daily said the Saudi national had recorded his own interrogation inside the mission on an Apple Watch.
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate and lurid claims have been leaked to media that he was tortured and even dismembered.
Saudi insists Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor whose writings have been critical of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left the building safely but has yet to offer visual evidence of this.
The outcry surrounding his disappearance threatens to not just harm brittle Turkey-Saudi relations but also alarm the kingdom’s supporters in the West and tarnish the reform drive spearheaded by the crown prince.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment,” Trump told CBS’s “60 Minutes” program, according to an extract of an interview that was released on Saturday.
“As of this moment, they (Saudi) deny it and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes,” Trump said in the interview, which was conducted on Thursday.
But he again voiced his reluctance to limit US arms sales to the kingdom, which analysts see as one of Washington’s key potential levers.
Trump, who has become notorious for his attacks on American journalists, added the matter was especially important “because this man was a reporter”.
– ‘Sensational claims’ –
The Saudi delegation was in Turkey and due to have talks this weekend in Ankara and take part in a working group on the disappearance, official Turkish media said. The NTV channel said the 11 person delegation had on Friday inspected the consulate in Istanbul.
Riyadh has warmly welcomed the creation of the working group but Interior Minister Prince Abdel Aziz bin Saud bin Nayef slammed claims that the kingdom ordered Khashoggi to be killed inside the consulate. - APP/AFP