Disappeared journalist khashoggi: face-saving way out in sight

Saudi Arabia seems to want to admit the death of Jamal Khashoggi. The blame is to be placed on officials acting on their own authority.

Mike Pompeo on Tuesday in Riyadh with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Photo: ap

The investigation and attempts to explain the alleged murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul are drifting toward a bizarre climax. While Turkish police were searching the Saudi consulate and also planning to inspect the consul’s residence, U.S. media are reporting that behind the scenes a statement is being prepared in which the Saudi government would admit to Khashoggi’s death. The blame, however, would be placed on lower bureaucrats acting on their own authority.

On Monday evening, 13 days after Khashoggi’s disappearance, Turkish investigators, together with Saudi colleagues flown in from Riyadh, succeeded in gaining access to the alleged crime scene, the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. For more than nine hours, with the help of sniffer dogs, the consulate’s rooms and garden were searched.

According to the Turkish broadcaster NTV, the search was to continue Tuesday afternoon and the consul’s residence was also to be inspected. So far, nothing has leaked out about possible results. Turkish media point out that the Saudis had had enough time to cover possible traces.

Even before the search, the Turkish security apparatus had said that they had clear audio and video material showing that Khashoggi had first been questioned in the consulate, then tortured and later murdered. This material is also said to be known to the U.S. government. So far, however, Turkey has not disclosed this alleged evidence and no prosecutor has confirmed its existence.

"Unauthorized killer"

Instead, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone with Saudi King Salman on Sunday evening, likely informing him of the Turkish findings. The result is not a public indictment of the Saudis, but on the contrary a joint Saudi-Turkish investigative commission. Obviously, Erdogan does not want to publicly parade the guardian of Islam’s holy sites, but to work with the Saudis on a face-saving solution.

The same goes for U.S. President Donald Trump. He, too, spoke with King Salman on the phone and said afterward that the king had fiercely denied the murder allegation. Trump then hinted at how the affair could be resolved. He said Khashoggi’s murder may have been the act of an unauthorized hit man. How an unauthorized killer would have murdered a prominent dissident in the Saudi consulate, Trump did not say.

Trump and Erdogan don’t want to show up King Salman, they want to help him

However, CNN reported Tuesday, behind the scenes the Saudi royal family was preparing a statement that would confirm Trump’s assumption. In it, Khashoggi’s death would be acknowledged, but the perpetrators would have acted without order.

Probably to put the finishing touches on a statement to that effect, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday for a meeting with the king. Saudi Arabia is the U.S.’s most important ally in the Middle East, especially in the dispute with Iran, and also the most important buyer of American weapons. Trump has already made it clear that the affair should not affect arms sales.

The Turkish president, too, although he knew Khashoggi personally, does not want a break with the Saudis. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is known to have broken diplomatic ties on lesser occasions. Erdogan’s Turkey may be competing with the Saudis for influence in the Middle East, but at the same time Turkey’s weakened economy is dependent on Saudi investment. Saudis may end up reciprocating Erdogan’s cooperation with them.