President Trump dispatches Secretary Pompeo to Saudi Arabia

President Trump dispatched Secretary of State Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to discuss with the leadership what exactly happened to a Washington Post Journalist inside the Saudi consulate. CNN's Alex Marquardt reports.

Posted: Oct 16, 2018 12:05 PM
Updated: Oct 16, 2018 12:05 PM

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with top Saudi leaders Tuesday as sources told CNN that the Kingdom is preparing to acknowledge that missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi died at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Pompeo had a short discussion with King Salman before a longer meeting with the King's son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler. US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Pompeo "thanked the King for his commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation" of the Khashoggi case.

Nauert described the meetings as "direct and candid."

CNN's sources said Saudi Arabia plans to contend that the Washington Post columnist died when an interrogation went awry, but there was no public mention on Tuesday of any new Saudi explanation of Khashoggi's disappearance.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish officials, who searched the consulate for nine hours on Monday, are looking into "toxic" and "painted over material" as part of their investigation. "My hope is that we can reach conclusions that will give us a reasonable opinion as soon as possible, because the investigation is looking into many things such as toxic materials and those materials being removed by painting them over," Erdogan told reporters.

Saudi Arabia has been under intense international pressure to explain Khashoggi's apparent death after he visited the consulate on October 2 to obtain papers that would have allowed him to marry his Turkish fiancée.

The affair has created a diplomatic rift between Saudi Arabia and the West and led to international firms pulling out of a high-profile summit in Riyadh. The CEOs of three top banks -- Standard Chartered, HSBC and Credit Suisse -- announced their withdrawal from the conference Tuesday.

Flurry of meetings

Trump dispatched Pompeo to the region shortly after a phone call on Monday with King Salman. He was met at the airport in Riyadh on Tuesday by the Saudi foreign minister, and undertook a flurry of engagements with top officials throughout the day.

Pompeo's meeting with the King was relatively brief -- based on the arrival and departure times of his motorcade, CNN estimates the encounter can have lasted no more than 15 minutes. Pompeo met with the Crown Prince for about 35 to 40 minutes, and was due to meet him again for dinner later.

The State Department provided little information about the substance of the discussions, beyond saying that Pompeo expressed concern about Khashoggi's case and the need for a full investigation.

Turkish authorities have said privately that Khashoggi was killed at the consulate in Istanbul on October 2 as his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, waited outside. Saudi Arabia has previously insisted he left the building alive, but Cengiz says she never saw him again.

She tweeted a Quranic verse on Tuesday promising "eternal hellfire" for the killers of "deliberate believers."

Sources told CNN on Monday that the Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge that the death of Khashoggi, a former Saudi royal insider who became a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was the result of an interrogation that went wrong. The sources said the interrogation was intended to lead to his enforced return to Saudi Arabia.

One source said the report will likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and transparency and that those involved will be held responsible. A source acknowledged that the report was still being prepared and cautioned that things could change.

If Riyadh goes public with its new explanation, it would require a reversal of its previous claim that Khashoggi had left the consulate alive.

After Trump's call with King Salman on Monday, he floated the possibility that Khashoggi died during an unauthorized operation. "It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers -- who knows," Trump told reporters.

Trump's comments may be a sign that Washington is preparing to accept Saudi Arabia's efforts to distance its leaders from whatever fate befell Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate.

Turkish investigation

At a press conference in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Saudi Arabia had not yet acknowledged its role in Khashoggi's disappearance. "We didn't receive any confession or information from Saudi Arabia," he said. Turkey expected to get more details about the Saudi position when Pompeo arrives in Turkey on Wednesday, he said.

Turkish investigators were expected to carry out a search of the Saudi Consul General's residence in Istanbul later on Tuesday. CCTV footage, which has served as a focal point in the investigations, showed vehicles moving from the consulate building to the nearby Consul General's residence on October 2.

The semiofficial Anadolu news agency said Saudi's Istanbul Consul General, Mohammed Otaibi, had left the country.

On Monday, Turkish officials conducted an investigation of the main consulate building that lasted well into the evening. Earlier in the day, CNN reporters saw a cleaning crew enter the building.

Khashoggi's family issued a statement in which they acknowledged for the first time that the journalist was no longer alive. "The strong moral and legal responsibility which our father instilled in us obliges us to call for the establishment of an independent and impartial international commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death," they said in the statement.

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on Riyadh to lift immunity -- bestowed by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations -- on its diplomatic premises, given the seriousness of the allegations leveled against Saudi Arabia. "Under international law, both a forced disappearance and an extra-judicial killing are very serious crimes, and immunity should not be used to impede investigations into what happened and who is responsible," Bachelet said in a statement released Tuesday.

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