Saudi denies knowledge over Khashoggi ‘murder’, says US

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Saudi Arabia promised to ensure a thorough probe and accountability over a missing Saudi journalist but stood by denials the kingdom killed him. (Bloomberg pic)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia promised to ensure a thorough probe and accountability over a missing Saudi journalist but stood by denials the kingdom killed him, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday, as he paid a supportive visit to the under-fire ally.

President Donald Trump dispatched Pompeo on an urgent mission to Riyadh to defuse a crisis over Jamal Khashoggi, an insider turned critic of the conservative monarchy who was last seen on October 2 when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to sort out marriage paperwork.

After a full day of talks, a statement from Pompeo and a tweet by Trump said that the Saudi leadership “strongly denied knowledge of what took place” in the consulate, without outright rejecting that an incident occurred.

Officials in Turkey, where Pompeo heads on Wednesday, say that the Saudis killed Khashoggi inside the consulate.

The Saudis earlier insisted, without evidence, that Khashoggi left freely while later reportedly hinted that rogue elements could be responsible – a theory that Trump has mused about aloud.

The mysterious circumstances around Khashoggi, a onetime Saudi insider turned critic who lived in the United States and contributed to The Washington Post, have badly dented the international image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who until recently was hailed in the West as a reformist saviour.

The 33-year-old heir apparent spoke to Pompeo over an evening-long dinner during which Trump called for and received assurances that the Saudis would “rapidly expand” an investigation.

“My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including accountability for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders or senior officials,” Pompeo said in a statement.

The crown prince “pledged that the work of the Saudi public prosecutor will produce a full and complete conclusion with full transparency for the world to see,” Pompeo added.

Trump earlier threatened “severe punishment” if it is proven that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate. But he has ruled out cutting sales of US weapons, of which Saudi Arabia is the largest foreign buyer.