11 July 2024

STANBUL (REUTERS) – US President Donald Trump, in his toughest comments yet, said Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince bore ultimate responsibility for the operation that led to Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, piling pressure on his ally amid a global outcry over the journalist’s death.

The Wall Street Journal published Trump’s remarks hours before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s appearance at a business conference where he is due to make his most high profile comments since Khashoggi was killed on Oct 2.

An adviser to Turkey’s President, meanwhile, said Prince Mohammed had “blood on his hands” over Khashoggi, the bluntest language yet from someone linked to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the de facto ruler of the kingdom in connection with the death.

The Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the remarks by Trump and the Erdogan adviser.

Riyadh has blamed a “rogue operation” for the death of the prominent Saudi journalist, a critic of the Crown Prince, and said Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the killing.

Trump told the Journal he wanted to believe the prince when he said that lower-level officials were to blame for the killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

But he suggested responsibility lay higher up: “Well, the prince is running things over there, more so at this stage. He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.”

The death of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, has sparked global outrage and threatened relations between Riyadh and Washington as well as other Western nations.

For Saudi Arabia’s allies, the burning question has been whether they believe that Prince Mohammed , who has painted himself as a reformer, has any culpability in the killing, a possibility raised by several US lawmakers.

Saudi Arabia has given conflicting accounts about Khashoggi’s killing. It first denied his death and later said Khashoggi died inside the consulate after a fight.

On Sunday, Riyadh called the killing a “huge and grave mistake”, but sought to shield the Crown Prince from the widening crisis, saying he had not been aware.

Turkish security sources say that when Khashoggi entered the consulate, he was seized by 15 Saudi intelligence operatives who had flown in on two jets just hours before.

“It is a disgrace that reaches all the way to Crown Prince (Mohammed bin) Salman. At least five members of the execution team are (Mohammed bin) Salman’s right hands and are people that wouldn’t act without his knowledge,” Mr Ilnur Cevik, one of several advisers to Turkey’s Erdogan, wrote in the Yeni Birlik newspaper.

“Even if US President Trump saves (Mohammed bin) Salman, in the eyes of the world he is a questionable person with Khashoggi’s blood on his hands,”  Cevik’s column said.

It was not immediately clear whether Cevik’s views reflected those of Erdogan, who in speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday highlighted the need for all of those responsible – “from those who ordered it to those who carried it out” – to face justice.