WASHINGTON – United States President Donald Trump sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia on Monday, but questioned the involvement of the Arab Kingdom in the disappearance and possible murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an issue that has complicated his close relationship with Riyadh.
Trump spoke on Monday with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz about the disappearance of Khashoggi, a Saudi reporter critical of Riyadh who had lived in Washington for a year and whose whereabouts are unknown since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
“Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened to our Saudi Arabian citizen,” Trump wrote on his Twitter account, in apparent reference to the monarch’s statement about Khashoggi.
“He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer. I am immediately sending our Secretary of State to meet with King!” Trump added.
Shortly after, the State Department confirmed in a statement that Pompeo would travel to Riyadh and recalled that Trump “has called for a prompt and open investigation into the disappearance” of Khashoggi, who wrote for the US daily The Washington Post.
Trump said he had ordered Pompeo to “go to other places if necessary” to solve Khashoggi’s case, and Turkish media reported that he could visit Turkey after his stop in Riyadh.
The case of the disappeared journalist has tested the alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia, a country that Trump made the destination of his first trip abroad as president and which he defended in the Kingdom’s diplomatic dispute with Qatar.
For that reason, Trump seemed reluctant to put the blame on Riyadh, and stressed several times that the Saudi monarch had “firmly denied” any involvement in the disappearance of the reporter.
“(The King) really did not know (what happened), maybe, I do not want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rouge killers. Who knows? We’re going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon,” Trump told reporters before boarding his helicopter for a trip to Florida.
Trump’s remarks on “freelance assassins” came hours before The New York Times reported that the Saudi government is preparing to blame the murder on an “intelligence services officer” of the regime in order to distance the kingdom from the incident.
According to the newspaper and CNN, Riyadh will admit the approval of the interrogation and the capture of Khashoggi in order to move him to Saudi Arabia, but that this operation got out of hand of the agents in the Istanbul consulate.