Congress and Western Allies Demand Answers on Fate of Journalist as Saudi Arabia Balks

October 9, 2018 - Istanbul, Turkey - Protestors demonstrate at the entrance of Saudi Arabia consulate over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, on October 9, 2018, in Istanbul. The journalist disappeared a week ago after entering Saudi Arabia's consulate to obtain paperwork required for marriage to his Turkish fiancee. Turkish officials have alleged he was killed in the compound while Saudi officials say he left the building unharmed. (Depo Photos/Zuma Press/TNS)

October 14, 2018

By Laura King

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump faced growing pressure from congressional allies and Western partners to vigorously seek answers from Saudi Arabia over the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, even as the kingdom on Sunday harshly threatened anyone seeking to punish its ruling royals over the journalist’s disappearance and reported death.

Khashoggi, a former palace insider turned critic of Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy and of its impetuous young crown prince in particular, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2 and has not been seen since. The journalist lived in Virginia and wrote opinion columns for The Washington Post.

Saudi Arabia had until now confined itself to disavowing any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi, saying he freely left the consulate, but on Sunday the kingdom unleashed threats of major economic retaliation against anyone who sought to act against it.

“The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether through economic sanctions, political pressure or repeating false accusations,” said the official communique from Riyadh, which did not mention Khashoggi by name.

It added that if Saudi Arabia is targeted, “it will respond with greater action.”

Trump, who has sealed a close alliance with the kingdom, was initially silent about Khashoggi’s disappearance. Amid reports that there was audio and video proof that the journalist had been killed and his body dismembered in the consulate, Trump said it was important to find out what happened. But he rejected the idea of a retaliatory cutoff of arms sales to Saudi Arabia if the reports were borne out.

In an interview taped for airing Sunday on “60 Minutes,” Trump said proof of Saudi involvement in anything “terrible and disgusting” that had befallen Khashoggi would be met with “severe punishment.”

But the president, who sometimes publicly touts denials of wrongdoing by those he supports as evidence of innocence, said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had spoken by phone with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and disavowed knowledge of anything untoward.

“They deny it,” Trump said. “They deny it every way you can imagine.”

Congress has taken a far tougher stance, and even GOP allies of the president insisted that Saudi Arabia must produce proof it did not harm Khashoggi.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Khashoggi’s fate was still unknown, but that it was incumbent on Saudi Arabia to provide swift answers.

“I can tell you he walked into that consulate, and we have never seen him come out. And something happened,” Rubio said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And if he’s not alive, then it is the Saudis who would know what happened.”

If Saudi culpability is established, Rubio predicted lawmakers would act in concert in support of punitive measures, despite Trump’s aversion to using an arms cutoff as punishment.

“If this is proven to be true, there is going to be a response from Congress,” he said. “It’s going to be nearly unanimous. It’s going to be swift. And it’s going to go pretty far.”

In a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rubio was asked whether Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin should cancel his appearance at a high-profile upcoming economic gathering in Saudi Arabia. The senator said the United States should not conduct “business as usual” while the Khashoggi disappearance is unresolved.

The White House’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” defended Mnuchin’s plan to attend the conference later this month, although some influential business leaders have dropped out.

“He’s intending to go because of the importance of the issue of ending terrorist financing,” Kudlow said, adding that plans could change.

Meanwhile, Germany, Britain and France expressed “grave concern” over the Khashoggi affair and said Saudi Arabia needed to provide a “complete and detailed” account of what had happened to the journalist.

The joint statement also offered an understated but sharp contrast to Trump’s frequent depiction of the news media as an “enemy of the people.”

“Defending freedom of expression and a free press and ensuring the protection of journalists are key priorities for Germany, the United Kingdom and France,” the statement said.

A number of retired intelligence professionals have said that any move to kidnap or kill Khashoggi would have had to come at the behest of the highest echelons of the Saudi government. Former CIA director John Brennan, a frequent Trump critic, said on “Meet the Press” that the Saudi denials “ring hollow.”

It would be “inconceivable,” Brennan added, that such an operation would take place without “the knowledge of the day-to-day decision maker of Saudi Arabia — that’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi statement denouncing a “campaign of false allegations and falsehoods” against the kingdom was unprecedentedly strident, coming from the Trump administration’s closest Arab ally. Hours later, the Saudi Embassy in Washington sought to soften the tone by offering up seeming praise for Trump’s thus-far noncommittal stance.

“To help clarify (the) recently issued Saudi statement, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia extends its appreciation to all, including the U.S. administration, for refraining from jumping to conclusions on the ongoing investigation,” the embassy tweeted.


©2018 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Foreign Affairs

Trump Brags About China Travel Ban; Health Experts Say It’s Had Little Effect
In The News
Trump Brags About China Travel Ban; Health Experts Say It’s Had Little Effect

WASHINGTON — Confronted with criticism about the lagging federal response to the coronavirus crisis, President Donald Trump often boasts about his Jan. 31 decision to restrict travel from China, where the outbreak began, claiming he saved thousands of American lives. But Trump has repeatedly overstated the... Read More

China to Expel US Newspaper Journalists
Foreign Affairs
China to Expel US Newspaper Journalists

WASHINGTON — Political skirmishing between Washington and Beijing escalated Tuesday when China announced it was expelling U.S. journalists working for three American news outlets in response to Trump administration restrictions on Chinese media here. U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo condemned China’s action and accused... Read More

Trump Suspends All Travel From Europe to US Over ‘Horrible’ Coronavirus Pandemic
Trump Suspends All Travel From Europe to US Over ‘Horrible’ Coronavirus Pandemic

President Donald Trump took the extraordinary step Wednesday of announcing a suspension of all travel from Europe to the U.S. in an effort to contain the coronavirus, calling the fast-spreading respiratory illness a “horrible” pandemic that requires an “aggressive” response. After downplaying the virus for days,... Read More

Trump Urged to Increase Pressure on North Korea to Denuclearize
Trump Urged to Increase Pressure on North Korea to Denuclearize
February 27, 2020
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON -- Foreign policy experts told a Senate subcommittee Tuesday that North Korea has returned to its hardline militarization and human rights abuses despite earlier pledges to President Donald Trump of more moderate politics. The Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee held a hearing as it considers proposals... Read More

US Considering New Wave of China Tech Restrictions
US Considering New Wave of China Tech Restrictions

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering new restrictions on exports of cutting-edge technology to China in a push aimed at limiting Chinese progress in developing its own passenger jets and clamping down further on tech giant Huawei’s access to vital semiconductors, according to four people... Read More

Turkish Security Guards Face Prosecution After Protester Beatings in DC
Turkish Security Guards Face Prosecution After Protester Beatings in DC
February 13, 2020
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON - Security guards for Turkey’s president must face civil prosecution in Washington, D.C. after they beat protesters on Embassy Row three years ago, a federal judge ruled last week. Attorneys for the government of Turkey argued the security personnel should receive immunity against lawsuits by... Read More

Straight From The Well
scroll top