Saudi Arabia says it will prosecute Khashoggi’s killers

US defence secretary claims journalist’s death will not diminish Washington’s ties with kingdom

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman vows that the killers of Jamal Khashoggi would be brought to justice, in his first public comments since the journalist’s murder sparked global condemnation. Video: Reuters

 

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Saturday that those behind the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi would be prosecuted in the kingdom and that the investigation would take time.

Mr al-Jubeir told a security summit in Bahrain that Riyadh’s relations with the US were “ironclad” amid what he described as “media hysteria” over the killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd, which sparked a global outcry and strained the kingdom’s ties with the West.

The minister also said the administration of US president Donald Trump has a “rational, realistic” foreign policy that all Gulf Arab states can support. He said Saudi Arabia was combatting Iran’s vision of “darkness” in the Middle East.

US defence secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday that incidents such as this undermined Middle Eastern stability and that the US would take additional measures against those responsible.

Saudi Arabia is the lynchpin of a US-backed regional bloc against the growing Iranian influence in the Middle East.

US president Donald Trump has said he wants to get to the bottom of the case, while also highlighting Riyadh’s role as an ally against Iran and Islamist militants, as well as a major purchaser of US arms.

“With our collective interests in peace and unwavering respect for human rights in mind, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in a diplomatic facility must concern us all,” Mr Mattis said in prepared remarks which he will give at the annual Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain.

“Failure of any nation to adhere to international norms and the rule of law undermines regional stability at a time when it is needed most,” Mr Mattis said. He did not mention de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by name in his prepared remarks.

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated, contradicting a previous official statement that it happened accidentally during a tussle in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

In his remarks, Mr Mattis went through a long list of what he described as disruptive Iranian behaviour – a message most Gulf allies will view positively since they share similar concerns about Iran’s increasing influence in Syria and Iraq.

While these were some of the sharpest comments Mr Mattis has made on the Khashoggi killing, he said the incident would not diminish ties with Saudi Arabia.

“It’s hard to imagine that this administration in particular is going to change fundamentally how it views the role of the Saudis in terms of counterterrorism, in terms of counter Iran,” said Dennis Ross, who served as top Middle East adviser to former US president Barack Obama in his first term.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo this week announced moves against 21 Saudis to either revoke their visas or make them ineligible for US visas after the Khashoggi killing.

“Our secretary of state has already revoked visas and will be taking additional measures,” Mr Mattis said.

Mr Mattis warned that Russia’s presence in the Middle East – where it is a major ally of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad – could not be a replacement for the United States.

He said that it was important to end a 16-month-old dispute between Qatar and four Arab states that analysts say has weakened regional coordination against Iran.

Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut off travel and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of backing their arch-rival, Iran, and supporting terrorism. Qatar denies the charges.

“The solving of internal debates among our GCC partners is vital for realizing this vision. Without it, we weaken our security,” he said, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council nations. – Reuters