Turkey's President Erdogan says he's hoping a reasonable opinion will be reached in the probe into Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance ahead of an expected visit to Ankara by US state secretary Mike Pompeo who is in Riyadh meeting Saudi officials.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Tuesday to discuss the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as Turkish police prepared to search the Saudi consul’s residence in Istanbul in a widening probe.
Khashoggi, a US resident and leading critic of the Saudi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, vanished after entering the consulate on October 2. Turkish officials have said they believe he was murdered there and his body removed, which the Saudis strongly deny.
President Donald Trump, who dispatched Pompeo to Riyadh over the case amid strained ties with the key ally, speculated on Monday that “rogue killers” may be responsible after speaking with King Salman.
After talks with the king, Pompeo met Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir and will have dinner with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to officials in Riyadh.
Pompeo is then expected to go to Ankara on Tuesday where he will brief Turkish officials on his conversations in Riyadh.
US media say Riyadh is set to acknowledge killing Khashoggi
CNN reported on Monday that Saudi Arabia was preparing to acknowledge Khashoggi’s death in a botched interrogation, after denying for two weeks any role in his disappearance.
The New York Times, citing a person familiar with the Saudi plans, reported the crown prince had approved an interrogation or abduction of Khashoggi. It said the Saudi government, which could not be reached immediately for comment on the reports, would shield the prince by blaming an intelligence official for the bungled operation.
Turkish authorities have an audio recording indicating that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, a Turkish official and a security source have told Reuters, and have shared evidence with countries including Saudi Arabia and the United States.
UN calls for diplomatic immunity to be lifted
The case has provoked an international outcry against the world’s top oil exporter. The UN human rights chief on Tuesday said immunity on diplomatic premises and officials should be lifted for the Khashoggi investigation.
Overnight, Turkish crime scene investigators entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the last place Khashoggi was seen before vanishing, for the first time and searched the premises for over nine hours.
A Turkish foreign ministry source said the police would search the consulate again on Tuesday as well as the consul’s residence, which Turkish media have previously reported could be linked to Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking to reporters in parliament on Tuesday, raised the possibility that parts of the consulate had been repainted. “The investigation is looking into many things such as toxic materials and those materials being removed by painting them over,” he said.
Some 10 Turkish investigators left the consulate before 5am (0200 GMT), and a Turkish prosecutor departed around 1-1/2 hours later, followed shortly after by a Saudi team, witnesses said.
Forensic vehicles took away soil samples as well as a metal door from the garden, a witness said. A police dog was part of the search team.
“The Turkish crime scene investigators carried out searches in the consulate and took the things deemed necessary,” a senior Turkish official said, after acknowledging the difficulty of collecting evidence 13 days after the alleged incident.
Trump defends US arms sales to Saudi Arabia
The US president has threatened “severe punishment” if it turns out Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, but Trump also ruled out cancelling arms deals worth tens of billions of dollars.
Many members of the US Congress, which has long had a testy relationship with Saudi Arabia, have issued strong criticism of the kingdom.
European allies have urged accountability for those responsible for Khashoggi's disappearance and death, if confirmed.
Major media have businesses have been pulling out of an investment conference next week in Saudi Arabia, dubbed 'Davos in the Desert.'
The latest no-shows are HSBC CEO John Flint who backed out on Tuesday, as did the CEOs of Standard Chartered and Credit Suisse.
Saudi Arabia has said it would retaliate against any pressure or economic sanctions “with greater action,” and regional allies rallied to support it.
The Saudi riyal, rebounded early after falling to its lowest in two years over fears that foreign investment could shrink. Saudi stock index was down 3 percent in early Tuesday trade before it recouped some losses for a decline of 0.5 percent by 0949 GMT.
Khashoggi, a familiar face on Arab talk shows, moved to Washington last year fearing retribution for his criticism of the Saudi crown prince, who has cracked down on dissent with arrests.
The insider never shied away from criticising Saudi policies but gained prominence in many circles, including as an adviser to former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al Faisal.
Members of Khashoggi’s family have called for “an independent and impartial international” investigation.
Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside the consulate the day he disappeared, tweeted a Koranic verse warning those who kill on purpose, with the hashtag “Jamal is the Martyr of the Word."