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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Turkish and Saudi investigators inspect consulate over Khashoggi disappearance

US President Trump sends secretary of state to Riyadh to discuss issue with Saudi king

Members of a Saudi and Turkish inspection team enter Saudi Arabia's Consulate in Istanbul on October 15, 2018. AP Photo
Members of a Saudi and Turkish inspection team enter Saudi Arabia's Consulate in Istanbul on October 15, 2018. AP Photo

Turkish and Saudi investigators on Monday began what Turkish officials said was a joint "inspection" of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to ascertain the fate of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who has not been seen since he visited it two weeks ago.

The investigators arrived in unmarked vehicles and made no comment to journalists waiting outside as they entered. The joint visit was announced earlier by a Turkish foreign ministry official, and followed a phone call between the Saudi king and Turkey's president on Sunday night to discuss the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi, state-run news agencies in both countries said.

King Salman thanked President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "for welcoming the kingdom's proposal" of forming a group to investigate the whereabouts of Mr Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the consulate on October 2. Turkish officials have accused Saudi Arabia of killing the journalist and critic.

King Salman said Turkey and Saudi Arabia enjoy close relations and "that no one will get to undermine the strength of this relationship."

US President Donald Trump on Monday said that he would be sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh to meet King Salman and discuss the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi.

The president said King Salman had denied any knowledge of the disappearance and said they were working with Turkey to uncover what happened.

The developments follow a strained exchange between the kingdom and the US on Sunday in which president Mr Trump warned there would be "severe" punishment for those responsible if Mr Khashoggi is found dead.

In response, Saudi said it rejected "any threats" and would retaliate with consequences for the world economy.

But while US lawmakers have sparked a human rights investigation that could trigger sanctions on Riyadh, Mr Trump said he is reluctant to cancel multimillion-dollar arms sales to the Gulf state. Several Republicans have said arms sales should be curtailed.

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Late on Sunday, several Arab states and bodies released statements in support of the kingdom.

"Saudi Arabia is one of the main countries trusted with the stability of the region and the advocacy of Arab causes,” said Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, adding that the targeting of Riyadh will "drag the region into more negativity".

Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications, Jumana Ghunaimat, said that “Saudi Arabia has a leading role in establishing security, stability and peace as well as enhancing economic co-operation in the region and the world.”

She said that Jordan stands with Saudi Arabia, describing it as a “sister state”, in the face of “rumours and campaigns targeting them that are not based in facts”.

Ms Ghunaimat also stressed “the strength of strategic relations between the two kingdoms and rejection of anyone targeting Saudi Arabia and its role and status in the Arab and Islamic world.”

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas expressed "full confidence" in Saudi Arabia and praised the kingdom's leaders for their support of Palestine. "Palestine was – and shall remain – on the side of Saudi Arabia," he said.

The GCC Secretary General Abdul Latif bin Rashid condemned what he called a "media campaign" against Saudi Arabia, calling claims of Saudi guilt "false accusations".

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation issued a statement to praise the Turkish-Saudi joint investigative committee. "[The two countries] are capable of presenting a model of bilateral co-operation in the most difficult circumstances and the means to produce results that translate their good intentions ... into leadership," OIC Secretary General Yousef Al Othaimeen said.

Pakistan, which enjoys friendly relations with both Turkey and Saudi Arabia, said it hoped the "two brotherly countries will be able to jointly address the matter".

A statement from the ministry of foreign affairs said that since there was an investigation into the matter, "it would, therefore, be appropriate to await the outcome".

Meanwhile, a string of high-profile cancellations to this month's Saudi investment conference have seen the likes of JP Morgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon and Ford Motor Company chairman Bill Ford pull out of the event on Sunday.

In Europe, a joint statement issued by the foreign ministers from the UK, France and Germany said they shared "grave concern ... and are treating this incident with the utmost seriousness".

“We encourage joint Saudi-Turkish efforts in that regard and expect the Saudi government to provide a complete and detailed response. We have conveyed this message directly to the Saudi authorities,” they said.

After meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in London on Monday, UK foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The case of Jamal Khashoggi remains deeply concerning. The UK fully supports the Turkish investigation into the incident as I reiterated in person to Mr Çavuşoǧlu today.

“We have been urging Saudi Arabia to cooperate fully with the investigation. There remain questions about the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi that only Saudi Arabia can answer."

Mr Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and US resident, has been critical of some of the kingdom's policies, prompting concern when he failed to return from his meeting at the consulate on October 2.

Rumours of the journalist's death were compounded by a string of unidentified Turkish sources and Mr Erdogan’s senior adviser, Yasin Aktay, who said authorities believed Mr Khashoggi had been killed.

The kingdom has called such allegations "baseless" but has yet to offer evidence that Mr Khashoggi left the consulate.