Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared the killing of Jamal Khashoggi “a planned operation,” and President Trump complained that the Saudis had engaged in “the worst cover-up ever” as both countries increased pressure Tuesday on Riyadh to more completely account for the death of the dissident Saudi journalist.
After Trump spoke, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo announced that the U.S. would revoke the visas of the men implicated in Khashoggi’s killing — the first concrete U.S. steps to punish the Saudis for the slaying.
“These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States,” Pompeo said in announcing the action.
Together, the statements by Trump and Erdogan showed that the Saudi effort late last week to blame the killing entirely on security officials had failed to resolve the 3-week-old crisis. It began on Oct. 2 when Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, disappeared after visiting the country’s consulate in Istanbul.
But both presidents also carefully limited their statements, avoiding anything that might lead to a clear break in relations with the Saudis.
Erdogan had vowed on Sunday that he would reveal the details behind the killing of Khashoggi. “The truth,” he said, would be “revealed in full nakedness.”
It remained mostly clothed.
Speaking to parliament, Erdogan declared that Khashoggi’s slaying had been a “planned operation” — challenging the Saudi claim that he died accidentally in a struggle with security officials.
But the Turkish leader carefully praised Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who is 82, and stopped short of implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, who many believe ordered the hit on the journalist. He did not mention the crown prince’s name and said the Saudi acknowledgment that its agents had killed Khashoggi was a “significant step.”
“The human conscience will only be satisfied when the person who gave the order is punished,” Erdogan said, adding that he “had no doubt about the sincerity of King Salman” and that the investigation should be carried out “without bias.”
“Leaving some security personnel to hold the bag will not satisfy us nor the international community,” he said, referring to the death as a “murder,” according to a translation provided by Turkish broadcaster TRT World.
He did not produce a much-anticipated audio recording that Turkish media reports have said captured Khashoggi’s final moments as he was tortured in the office of the Saudi consul general.
Trump also criticized the Saudis, but appeared to partially absolve them from responsibility, saying that the Middle East is a “nasty part of the world” and that the Saudis had been a “good ally.”
The operation in which Khashoggi was killed “had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups,” Trump said.
“Whoever thought of that idea is in big trouble, and they should be in big trouble,” he added.
As he has repeatedly over the last two weeks, however, Trump said he opposed halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, using heavily exaggerated figures about the number of jobs involved to defend the importance of the deals.
“We do that, we’re just hurting ourselves,” he said. “It is a terrible thing, but it would really be hurting ourselves.” He said he would leave to Congress the decision on how to retaliate for Khashoggi’s killing.
Pompeo, speaking at the State Department, said the revoking of visas was aimed at “making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, with violence.” The State Department said it revoked the visas of 21 Saudis.
Asked if he still trusted the crown prince or would call for him to step aside, Pompeo said, “We’re learning the facts,” and that he would reserve judgment until all “facts unfold” on who ordered, carried out and led the operation. “Whoever is found responsible will be punished,” he said.
He, too, added, however, that “we continue to maintain a strong partnership with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Erdogan’s speech came hours after CIA Director Gina Haspel flew to Turkey’s capital, Ankara, as U.S., Saudi and Turkish officials continue to seek a way out of a crisis that threatens to damage their long-standing relationships. Haspel was expected to review the evidence that Turkish investigators have compiled about the slaying.
The Saudis initially denied that Khashoggi had been killed, insisting that he left the consulate shortly after arriving. Late last week, they changed their story and said he had died after a brief fight with a team of security officials at the diplomatic office.
In the speech, Erdogan gave a review of the evidence his intelligence and security services had gathered, which contradicted the Saudi account. He confirmed some details of the investigation that had been leaked to the media in piecemeal fashion over the last three weeks.
He spoke about the team of security, intelligence and forensic specialists from Saudi Arabia who flew into Istanbul before and after the killing, detailing their movements, including “reconnaissance work” at Istanbul’s Belgrad forest and the district of Yalova, areas where Turkish investigators believe Khashoggi’s body may have been buried.
He also described the removal of hard drives from the consulate’s camera system in the hours before Khashoggi was due to arrive there to pick up documents he needed for his impending marriage.
Erdogan demanded the Saudis provide the identity of a Turkish local who was to have assisted in the body’s disposal and confirmed that a body double had been used as a decoy in an unsuccessful effort to show Khashoggi had left the consulate.
Diplomatic immunity might not apply in this case, Erdogan said, because although the killing took place on Saudi sovereign territory, the consulate is on Turkish land. Earlier, Saudi Arabia had insisted the suspects should be tried by its judiciary.
“The incident took place in Istanbul; therefore, I propose the trial of these 18 people should be in Istanbul,” Erdogan said.
Meanwhile, in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, officials kicked off their Future Investment Initiative conference, a showcase for the crown prince’s economic policies that has been marred by the controversy over Khashoggi’s death.
The three-day event, billed as “Davos in the Desert,” aims to draw foreign investment to the country and display Saudi Arabia’s potential for industries beyond oil. The crown prince received a standing ovation when he appeared at the conference, but did not speak.
High-level government and corporate officials have pulled out of the conference (although many dispatched second-tier executives). Earlier Tuesday, the conference website was hacked, displaying a picture of the crown prince brandishing a bloodied sword with a smiling Khashoggi kneeling before him.
“For the sake of security for children worldwide, we urge all countries to put sanctions on the Saudi regime,” said a message below the picture.
Separately, the official Saudi Press Agency published photos of King Salman and the crown prince meeting two members of Khashoggi’s family, including his son. The photos showed the son, looking stricken, shaking hands with the crown prince while a videographer recorded the session.