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23 Oct, 2018 16:48

Khashoggi killing puts both Saudi prince & US president on back foot – analyst to RT

Khashoggi killing puts both Saudi prince & US president on back foot – analyst to RT

The Khashoggi case has done a lot of damage to the reputations of the Saudi crown prince and the US president, while giving Turkey a chance to leverage benefits from both, investigative journalist Martin Jay told RT.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday addressed members of his AK Party in Istanbul, with many expecting new evidence in the case of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in a Saudi consulate in Turkey earlier this month.

What happened instead was far from a bombshell. Erdogan delivered "quite a masterly piece of geopolitical leverage" over Saudi Arabia, the Beirut-based award-wining British journalist said.

"[The speech] was aimed at the Saudi king to make it clear that via this debacle the Turks have got the Saudi crown prince exactly where they want him, on his back foot," he said.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, is viewed by many as the person who ordered the killing of his critic, Khashoggi. Riyadh frames the death as the unintended result of an unauthorized operation by a senior Saudi intelligence official.

The explanation doesn't seem to satisfy many critics, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said Germany will not sell weapons to Saudi Arabia until the Khashoggi case is fully resolved.

Erdogan expressed confidence that King Salman, the father of MBS, was not involved in what happened in the Istanbul consulate, but no such vote of confidence was given to the young Saudi leader. He did not, however, accuse the crown prince of orchestrating the murder.

"What I am reading in Erdogan's speech is that he is very happy where he is now. He is prepared to drag it as long as possible. He is holding his hand for a deal with Saudi Arabia," Jay said. He added that sources close to the Turkish government said Ankara and Riyadh have been back-channeling on a possible deal for weeks now.

The question is what Ankara was prepared to accept in exchange for endorsing the Saudi version of events.

Even if MBS was not involved in Khashoggi's killing, it does not really matter to his international reputation, because it would make him unfit to rule Saudi Arabia.

"If he wasn't personally behind it, if he didn't commission this himself but left it to one of his top people, for example, Saud al-Qahtani, who is in the news as being the one who orchestrated the thing via Skype from Riyadh, that doesn't really paint a very good picture," the journalist said.

It makes it look as though he is not even in control of his own henchmen. 

US President Donald Trump was put in a similarly week position by Khashoggi's killing. This is because much of his Middle East policy is based on the US confronting Iran, and this policy requires help from Saudi Arabia, Jay believes.

Selling this policy to the US general public, which knows little about the region, is all about shaping the conflict in an emotional way: "these people are our allies, we need the Saudis against the threat of Iran."

"The nightmare scenario that Trump has is that millions of his own supporters start saying: well, we don't really understand the Middle East, but aren't you backing the wrong people? You are talking about human rights and terrorism, and these people who are in bed with us are apparently just kidnaping and dismembering people," he said.

Erdogan clearly sees Trump's conundrum, Jay said. The Turkish president is in a position to help his American counterpart, if the three countries can come up with a solution that satisfies all of them. And this solution does not necessarily include MBS remaining the crown prince, at least not in the long run.

The crown prince poses as a promising reformer who would modernize Saudi Arabia both economically and culturally. His supporters say his authoritarian policies like silencing critics at home and shaking down other members of the royal family for "corruption money" are necessary to bring change in the conservative country. But his ability to deliver the promised reform was in question even before the Khashoggi scandal, according to Jay.

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