US, EU say Saudi account of Khashoggi death ‘inadequate’
US president says ‘lies’ told about killing of journalist in kingdom’s Turkish consulate
US president Donald Trump has joined European leaders in pushing Saudi Arabia for more answers about Jamal Khashoggi after Riyadh changed its story and acknowledged that the journalist died more than two weeks ago at its consulate in Istanbul.
Saudi Arabia said on Saturday that Khashoggi, a critic of the country’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had died in a fight inside the building.
Germany called that explanation “inadequate” and questioned whether countries should sell arms to Saudi Arabia, while France and the European Union urged an in-depth investigation to find out what happened to the Washington Post columnist after he entered the consulate on October 2nd seeking documents for his marriage.
Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi, a Saudi national and US resident, was killed inside the consulate by a team of Saudi agents and his body cut up.
The case has caused international outrage and frayed political and business ties between Western powers and US ally Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter.
Asked during a trip to Nevada if he was satisfied that Saudi officials had been fired over Khashoggi’s death, Mr Trump said: “No, I am not satisfied until we find the answer. But it was a big first step, it was a good first step. But I want to get to the answer.”
In an interview with the Washington Post, Mr Trump said that “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies”.
His comments about the Khashoggi case in recent days have ranged from threatening Saudi Arabia with “very severe” consequences and warning of economic sanctions, to more conciliatory remarks in which he has played up the country’s role as a US ally against Iran and Islamist militants, as well as a major purchaser of US arms. He had earlier called the Saudi narrative of what happened to Khashoggi credible.
Riyadh provided no evidence on Saturday to support its account and made no mention of what had become of Khashoggi’s body.
As Saudi Arabia faced intensifying international scepticism over its story, a senior Saudi official laid out a new version of the death in which a team of 15 Saudi nationals sent to confront Khashoggi had threatened him with being drugged and kidnapped and then killed him in a chokehold when he resisted.
A member of the team then dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes to make it appear as if he had left the consulate.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the circumstances of his death as set out were deeply troubling,
“The emerging circumstances of Jamal Khashoggi’s death are deeply troubling, including the shocking violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations ...,” she said in a statement. “Therefore the European Union, like its partners, insists on the need for continued thorough, credible and transparent investigation, shedding proper clarity on the circumstances of the killing and ensuring full accountability of all those responsible for it.”
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for a full investigation into the killing and German chancellor Angela Merkel, in a joint statement with her foreign minister, said the Saudi account was not enough.
“We expect transparency from Saudi Arabia about the circumstances of his death ... The information available about events in the Istanbul consulate is inadequate,” the Germans said.
Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said Riyadh’s explanations lacked consistency and credibility.
Mr Trump said it was possible that Prince Mohammed had been unaware of the circumstances around the death of Khashoggi (59).
For Western allies, a main question will be whether they believe that the prince, who has painted himself as a reformer, has any culpability. King Salman (82) had handed the day-to-day running of Saudi Arabia to him.
Mr Trump, who has forged close ties with Saudi Arabia and the crown prince, said he was concerned that it was unclear where the journalist’s body is.
According to the senior Saudi official, the Saudi team rolled up Khashoggi’s body in a rug, took it out in a consular vehicle and handed it to a “local cooperator” for disposal.
One of the operatives then donned Khashoggi’s clothes, eyeglasses and Apple watch and left through the back door of the consulate in an attempt to make it look like he had walked out of the building, the senior Saudi official said.
Turkish investigators are likely to find out what happened to the corpse “before long”, a senior Turkish official said.
Officials told Reuters in Turkey on Thursday that Khashoggi’s remains may have been dumped in Belgrad Forest adjacent to Istanbul, and at a rural location near the city of Yalova, 90km south of Istanbul.
Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, tweeted in Arabic: “They have taken your body from this world, but your beautiful smile will stay in my world forever.” - Reuters