Thursday November 22, 2018
Guardian staff and agencies
Donald Trump said of Prince Mohammed’s possible involvement in the Khashoggi plot: ‘Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.’ Photograph: UPI/Barcroft Images
Ankara says US president’s comments about Saudi crown prince are not credible
Turkey on Wednesday accused the US of trying to turn a blind eye to the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, and dismissed comments from Donald Trump on the issue as “comic”.
On Tuesday Trump said the US would remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia, despite saying that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, may have known about the plan to kill Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist.
Of the possibility that Prince Mohammed had a hand in the murder, Trump said: “Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.” The CIA believes Khashoggi’s death was ordered directly by the crown prince, who is Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
On Wednesday, Numan Kurtulmuş, the deputy chairman of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK party, dismissed Trump’s assessment. “Yesterday’s statement is a comic statement,” he told the state broadcaster TRT Haber.
“It is not possible for an intelligence agency such as the CIA, which even knows the colour of the fur on the cat walking around the Saudi consulate’s garden … to not know who gave this order,” he said. “This is not credible either for US public opinion or the world public opinion.”
But in his remarks outside the White House on Tuesday, Trump also defended Saudi Arabia as a key ally and justified his prioritisation of the trading and defence partnership over tough punishment for the murder as “America first”.
Trump then tweeted on Wednesday morning about falling oil prices and added: “Thank you to Saudi Arabia.” He made no mention of Khashoggi.
“Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!” he tweeted.
He followed that a minute later with a tweet simply repeating his regular rallying cry to supporters: “Make America great again” in all capitals.
Trump acknowledged that the US Congress might have another view about the necessary consequences of the killing of the journalist and dissident. And the strength of congressional opinion soon became apparent when the Republican senator Lindsey Graham issued a statement predicting “strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilised norms”.
The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee sent a joint letter to Trump on Tuesday evening demanding he make a clear official statement to Congress on the prince’s alleged involvement in the murder.
Since Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month, Turkey has repeatedly said the order came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government, although it has not directly accused Prince Mohammed.
Saudi Arabia has denied that the crown prince ordered the killing. After offering numerous contradictory explanations, Riyadh said last week that Khashoggi was killed and his body dismembered when “negotiations” to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed.
Trump said Saudi Arabia, a major oil producer, was an important business partner and a “great ally” in the fight against Iranian power in the Middle East.
After a meeting with the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in Washington, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said Ankara was not entirely satisfied with the level of cooperation it was receiving from Saudi Arabia regarding the case.
Çavuşoğlu said Ankara may seek a formal United Nations inquiry if its liaising with Riyadh came to an impasse.