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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

US Secretary of State visits Saudi to discuss Khashoggi disappearance

Mike Pompeo trip follows phone calls between Saudi King and Trump

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Riyadh on Tuesday to meet King Salman where he reiterated American concern about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and US resident.

Mr Pompeo touched down in the Saudi capital on Tuesday morning where he was greeted by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir before meeting King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The former CIA chief spoke with the Saudi leadership behind closed doors.

He smiled and shook hands with both men, who warmly greeted him just hours after a joint Turkish and Saudi investigative team that included forensics experts finished a search inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate as they looking for evidence of the Washington Post columnist's alleged killing.

Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied any knowledge of Mr Khashoggi's disappearance.

In his meeting with King Salman, Mr Pompeo thanked him for what he called the kingdom's commitment to a thorough and transparent investigation into the whereabouts of the Saudi writer. He is also scheduled to have dinner with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday.

"We are strong and old allies," the prince told Mr Pompeo as journalists watched. "We face our challenges together – the past, the day of, tomorrow."

"The secretary and the foreign minister agreed on the importance of a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation," State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said later about the meeting between Mr Pompeo and Mr Al Jubeir.

US President Donald Trump, who dispatched Mr Pompeo to speak to the monarch over Mr Khashoggi's disappearance, said on Monday after talking with King Salman that the slaying could have been carried out by "rogue killers". Mr Trump provided no evidence but that statement.

"The king firmly denied any knowledge of it," Mr Trump told reporters on Monday. "It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. I mean, who knows? We're going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial."

He had earlier tweeted: "Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened 'to our Saudi Arabian citizen'."

Mr Pompeo was in the air when a Turkish forensic team wrapped up its more than nine-hour search of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul early on Tuesday morning. He is due to travel to Turkey after his Saudi visit.

Ten technicians in overalls, gloves and covered shoes treated the consulate, where Mr Khashoggi vanished two weeks ago, as a crime scene during their hours-long search. It wasn't immediately clear what evidence they gathered.

Shortly before authorities began a search of the consul's residence nearby, Saudi consul Mohammed Al Otaibi left the country on a 2 pm flight, state media reported. Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge the consul left the country

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Read more:

Turkish and Saudi investigators inspect consulate over Khashoggi disappearance

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Increased questions about whereabouts of Jamal Khashoggi

Fresh leaks in Khashoggi case Turkish press runs new pictures

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The UN human rights chief on Tuesday said immunity on diplomatic premises and officials should be lifted for the Khashoggi investigation.

Due to the seriousness of the case "I believe the inviolability or immunity of the relevant premises and officials...should be waived immediately," Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

Mr Pompeo's trip follows two phone calls made by King Salman to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday and President Donald Trump on Monday.

What evidence Turkish officials could gather at the consulate remained unknown. Saudi officials have been in and out of the building since Mr Khashoggi's disappearance on October 2 without being stopped. Under the Vienna Convention, diplomatic posts are technically foreign soil that must be protected and respected by host countries.

Earlier on Monday, a cleaning crew with mops, trash bags and what appeared to be bottles of bleach walked in past waiting journalists.

The writer's disappearance has led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of the upcoming investment conference in Riyadh, called the Future Investment Initiative.

Also on Monday a Washington lobbying firm said it would no longer represent the kingdom, while think tank Middle East Institute announced it would not accept financial contributions from the Saudi government. The statement issued by the think tank describes Mr Khashoggi as a "friend of the Institute and a frequent participant in its public panels and conferences."

Mr Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist vanished after entering the consulate to get marriage documents on October 2. Turkish officials say they believe he was murdered there and his body removed.

Mr Trump previously warned of "severe punishment" for the kingdom if it was found to be involved in Mr Khashoggi's disappearance, which has spooked investors.

Mr Trump's warning drew an angry response Sunday from Saudi Arabia and state media. Saudi Arabia has said it would retaliate against any pressure or economic sanctions "with greater action," and Arab allies rallied to support it. Some Saudi media outlets suggested the kingdom could cut oil production as a response.

The US president has been after King Salman and OPEC to boost production for weeks to drive down high crude oil prices, caused in part by the coming re-imposition of sanctions on Iran after the US withdrawal from that's country's nuclear deal with world powers.