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16 Oct, 2018 17:20

US thanks Saudis for ‘transparent’ probe as new evidence points to Khashoggi’s murder in consulate

US thanks Saudis for ‘transparent’ probe as new evidence points to Khashoggi’s murder in consulate

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s praise on Tuesday of the Saudis’ “transparent” investigation into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is just the latest sign that Washington seems to be advocating for Riyadh.

Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and Turkey claims to have audio and video evidence proving that he was murdered there. A Turkish forensic team spent nine hours searching for clues in the building. Following that search, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that some “toxic materials” in the consulate had been painted over” — and Turkish police claim to have found “certain evidence” which proves that the journalist died there.

Video footage of cleaners with mops and buckets entering the consulate on the day the team of investigators were due to search the building also provided more fuel to the fire of speculation surrounding a potential coverup.

But US officials have seemed somewhat indifferent to Turkey’s accusations and evidence. On Tuesday, after a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, which reportedly lasted a mere 15 minutes, the US State Department released a baffling statement saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had reiterated US “concern” over Khashoggi and thanked the Saudi king for committing to a “transparent” investigation of his disappearance — despite clear insinuations from Ankara that some kind of coverup was underway.

Pompeo’s friendly approach wasn’t all too surprising, given that US President Donald Trump has also seemed eager to believe the Saudi version of events. On Monday morning, after a short phone call with King Salman, Donald Trump approached a gaggle of journalists at the White House and proceeded to offer the new theory that perhaps “rogue killers” were responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Trump repeatedly told the journalists that King Salman had been “firm” and “strong” in his denial of any knowledge about what happened to Khashoggi — but Trump’s tone and repeated references to the denial made it sound more like a defense of the king than a simple relaying of his comments.

Not many people are buying the “rogue killers” theory, however. On Twitter, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy called it “ridiculous” and said it was “absolutely extraordinary” that the Saudis had managed to “enlist the President of the United States as their PR agent to float it.”

The theory was also met with ridicule by journalists and analysts. Former British military officer Charles Shoebridge said that despite “overwhelming evidence” that Riyadh did know what happened to Khashoggi, it was simply “convenient” for the West to pretend that some other explanation made more sense.

Reports on Monday evening suggested that Riyadh was preparing to admit that Khashoggi died at the Istanbul consulate after an interrogation “gone wrong” — in an operation supposedly carried out without clearance from Riyadh.

In other words, Saudi Arabia might be preparing to offer an explanation which cushions King Salman and insulates him from blame — and it’s more than likely that Trump will take any such explanation at face value. After all, he has already publicly admitted that even if Riyadh was responsible for the murder, weapons deals and the “massive amounts of money” the US receives from them are still more important. Losing money from Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi disappearance “would not be acceptable,” he told reporters last week.

In 2015, Trump commented that the Saudis "buy apartments from me. They spend $40M, $50M. Am I supposed to dislike them?” Room revenues in Trump’s hotels have also jumped significantly in recent years thanks to increasing numbers of Saudi visitors. In a tweet on Tuesday morning, however, Trump suddenly claimed he had “no financial interests” with Saudi Arabia.

Official Washington has grown increasingly skeptical of the US relationship with Saudi Arabia under Trump, though there is very little difference between Trump’s treatment of Riyadh and Barack Obama’s before him. Obama was a willing seller of US weapons to the Saudis, and Riyadh’s disastrous intervention in Yemen — which the UN warns could lead to the worst famine in 100 years — began while Obama was in office.

READ MORE: Rogue killers or state murder? Riyadh gets benefit of doubt from Trump where Russia doesn’t

The news of Khashoggi’s disappearance — and the accusations of Saudi involvement —  have been met with outrage from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.

Last week, Republican Senator Rand Paul, a long-time critic of Riyadh, said he would introduce a bill that would cut off military aid to Saudi Arabia until Khashoggi was found alive. Speaking on the Fox & Friends morning news show, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham boasted that he had been Saudi Arabia’s “biggest defender” on the Senate floor, but said that after Khashoggi’s disappearance, he would not be going back to the country and that he would “sanction the hell out of” Riyadh.

But bipartisan criticisms of Riyadh and calls to rethink the relationship have for now fallen on deaf ears in the White House.

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