Saudis are not US friends, it’s a transactional relationship – John Kiriakou
Turkish President Recep Erdogan is upping the stakes against Saudi Arabia after the death of a Saudi journalist in Istanbul. In a speech to Turkish Parliament Erdogan said the killing was “premeditated” and wants the suspects tried in Turkey. The Saudi Kingdom has issued conflicting statements about Jamal Khashoggi first saying he was still alive, then he was killed in a rogue operation, then it was a fist fight. The kingdom continues to deny that the Crown Prince was involved. And just this week CIA director Gina Haspel traveled to Turkey looking for answers.
RT: What do you make of Erdogan's assertion that Khashoggi's murder was planned weeks in advance and involved multiple teams of Saudi agents?
John Kiriakou: I think there are two things we should look at here. One, he is probably right that this is not something that you just do on a whim. This is an operation that was very poorly executed but probably was conceived many weeks in advance. But more importantly, the Turks and the Saudis have not gotten along in years, maybe decades. The Turks have a very close relationship with the Qataris, the Qataris are virtually in a state of war with the Saudis. And the Turks are absolutely obsessed with Kurds along the Turkish-Syrian border. And of course, the Saudis are financing, funding and arming fundamentalist groups in Syria. There are a lot of problems in Turkish-Saudi relations, the Turks have a reason to try to embarrass the Saudis on this.
RT: Jamal Khashoggi reportedly knew his life was in danger. Why did he go in there if he knew there was that kind of a threat or is this just a threat that he lived under all the time?
JK: I've spoken to friends of his over the past couple of weeks and they all say the same thing, they all say that he was deeply worried about his own security. He wanted to fill out whatever form he needed to fill out in order to marry this Turkish woman he was engaged to here in Washington. But he was told by the Saudi embassy in Washington that he had to do it at the consulate in Istanbul. So, they lured him to Istanbul and killed him inside. He knew something bad could happen. He was right. The interesting thing to me is that the Saudis didn't think anybody would care or didn't think anybody would notice. And we know now, thanks to Jared Kushner, that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has expressed surprise that this has become an issue at all.
RT: Can we believe the Saudis and their surprise, especially someone like the Crown Prince? How does this happen to someone who is so high-profile, that is so well-linked, his family is very well entrenched in the area without so many of the high up knowing what was going on?
JK: You're exactly right. This points to the inexperience of MBS: he bit off more than he can chew, clearly, on this operation. The Khashoggi family is not originally a Saudi family; it is originally a Turkish family. And so they have no tribal background on which to rely. And I think that in part that was one of the reasons why Mohammed bin Salman thought he could get away with this.
RT: What does this reveal about the MBS mindset? Is this kind of a humbling experience or does this been happening and we're just now finding out about it?
JK: I hope this is more than a humbling experience. MbS has shown repeatedly that he is not equipped to lead this kingdom: he has launched an illegal war against Yemen, he has ruined relations with Qatar, he has murdered Jamal Khashoggi now. It is time for somebody to step in and change this leadership.
RT: You have spent much of your adult life in Saudi Arabia. What do Americans need to understand or have failed to understand about the kingdom and the political culture … especially in the region of Wahhabism?
JK: The Saudi version of Islam, Wahhabi Islam is the most fundamentalist strain of the religion. And so what Americans, I think, don't understand is that the relationship that we have with the Saudis is based entirely on money: they sell us oil, we sell them weapons and we pretend that we're friends. We pretend that we have a special relationship. In fact, we don't have a special relationship. It is transactional, nothing but transactional. And then we choose to overlook their fundamentalism. Don't forget that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. Don't forget that Saudi NGOs and governmental organizations were implicated in the financing of the 9/11 attacks. The Saudis really are not our friends and we should not trust them in an operation like this.
RT: Does this change us going forward our relations with them or do we just accept – based on oil and money – does it change it going forward?
JK: I'm sorry to say that this does not change it. If the CIA director had gone to Riyadh instead of Ankara, I'd say okay, we're in for a change. But she went to Ankara because I think, the CIA doesn't have all the facts and if she had gone to Riyadh, I would have told you on this program, she had gone there to tell the King it's time for Mohammed bin Salman to go. That is not what happened.