Fri, Oct 12, 2018 - Page 7 News List

US steps up pressure over missing journalist

AFP, WASHINGTON

David Barrows, center, wears a mask of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a protest by Code Pink about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington on Wednesday.

Photo: AP

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday demanded that Saudi Arabia provide answers over the disappearance of Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi, whom Turkish officials suspect was murdered after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.

The Trump administration sharply upped the pressure, reversing an initially low-key response after Washington Post contributor Khashoggi vanished on Tuesday last week.

Trump said he had talked “more than once” and “at the highest levels” to partners in Saudi Arabia, which is one of Washington’s closest allies and a key market for the US weapons industry.

“We’re demanding everything,” Trump told reporters. “We cannot let this happen, to reporters, to anybody.”

“We are very disappointed to see what’s going on. We don’t like it and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” he added.

In a later interview with Fox News at Night, Trump said: “It would not be a good thing at all” if the Saudis were proven to be involved.

Twenty-two senators wrote to Trump invoking the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which requires the president to open an investigation and determine whether sanctions should be imposed.

The act is used in cases of suspected “extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression,” the senators said.

Asked in the Fox interview about suggestions in Congress that arms sales to the kingdom be blocked, Trump replied that such a move would hurt the US economy.

“Frankly, I think that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country,” he said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s close aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner had all spoken to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the past two days.

The US has not confirmed Turkish claims that Khashoggi, one of the more outspoken critics of the regime of King Salman and his son Prince Mohammed, had been lured to the Istanbul consulate and murdered by a team of 15 government operatives sent by Riyadh to Istanbul.

However, the Washington Post on Wednesday reported that Prince Mohammed himself had ordered an operation targeting Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabian officials were heard discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi from Virginia, where he resided, and detain him, the newspaper said, citing unnamed US officials discussing intelligence intercepts.

The case has sparked outrage from human rights and journalism groups.

In the calls by Bolton, Kushner and Pompeo, Sanders said: “They asked for more details and for the Saudi government to be transparent in the investigation process.”

Trump also said he was looking into a meeting in the White House with Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

US peace activists Code Pink mounted a protest in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington, brandishing signs saying “Where is Jamal Khashoggi?” and “Khashoggi: Another Victim of Saudi Violence.”

“We are very, very disturbed” by Khashoggi’s disappearance, Code Pink founder Meda Benjamin said.

“We think that there is very little hope that Jamal is still alive,” she said.

The Washington Post, where Khashoggi has been a regular contributor over the past year, also called for answers.

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