WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday called for a thorough and open probe by Washington’s ally Saudi Arabia into the disappearance of Riyadh critic Jamal Khashoggi, after US President Donald Trump voiced concern for the journalist.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and US resident, had written articles critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
On the eve of Khashoggi’s planned marriage to a Turkish woman, he entered the consulate on October 2 and has not been seen since.
Turkish officials allege he was murdered inside the consulate. Riyadh denies that and claims he left the compound on his own.
“We call on the government of Saudi Arabia to support a thorough investigation of Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance and to be transparent about the results of that investigation,” Pompeo said in a statement.
US State Department senior officials have spoken with Saudi Arabia through diplomatic channels about the matter, the top US diplomat added.
Pompeo’s statement came after Trump earlier on Monday told reporters at the White House: “I am concerned. I don’t like hearing about it. Hopefully that will sort itself out.”
“Right now, nobody knows anything about it. There are some pretty bad stories going around. I do not like it,” he added.
The issue threatens to strain the close relationship Prince Mohammed has forged with the Trump administration, which until now has been willing to turn a blind eye to alleged Saudi human rights violations in Yemen, where it leads a coalition bombing Houthi rebels that has killed thousands of civilians.
Trump has instead focused on US and Saudi shared interests in ratcheting up pressure on Iran.
But two senior senators of Trump’s Republican party warned Monday that the relationship could be imperiled if the stories about Khashoggi are correct.
‘A heavy price’
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Riyadh must provide “honest answers” about the journalist.
“We agree that if there was any truth to the allegations of wrongdoing by the Saudi government it would be devastating to the US-Saudi relationship and there will be a heavy price to be paid — economically and otherwise,” Graham tweeted.
“Our country’s values should be and must be a cornerstone of our foreign policy with foes and allies alike,” he said.
Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned against governments attacking journalists outside their countries.
“I have raised Jamal’s disappearance personally with the Saudi ambassador, and while we await more information, know we will respond accordingly to any state that targets journalists abroad,” he wrote.
Vice President Mike Pence said he was “deeply troubled” about reports of Khashoggi’s fate.
“If true, this is a tragic day. Violence against journalists across the globe is a threat to freedom of the press & human rights. The free world deserves answers,” Pence said on Twitter.
The Washington Post, for which the self-exiled Khashoggi wrote columns over the past year, pressed for release of evidence.
“If Mr Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate, it will cast the Saudi regime and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a new and disturbing light and require a thorough reevaluation of US-Saudi relations,” the newspaper said in an op-ed.
Khashoggi, 59, had a long career as a senior journalist in Saudi Arabia and also as an adviser to top officials.
But since the emergence of Prince Mohammed, 33, as the center of power in the kingdom last year, Khashoggi has been openly critical of the monarchy.
He has assailed the prince’s reforms as hollow, accusing him of introducing a new Saudi era of “fear, intimidation, arrests and public shaming.”