Turkey Saturday accused Saudi Arabia of failing to cooperate with a probe into the disappearance of a journalist inside its Istanbul consulate, as US President Donald Trump threatened “severe punishment” if it turns out he was killed.
Comments by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu represented a hardening of Ankara’s hitherto circumspect tone over the case of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who has not been seen since he stepped inside the consulate on Oct. 2.
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate and lurid claims have been leaked to media that he was tortured and even dismembered, while Trump has also struck a pessimistic tone about the missing journalist’s fate.
Saudi Arabia insists Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor whose writings have been critical of powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, left the building safely but has yet to offer visual evidence of this.
The outcry surrounding his disappearance threatens to not just harm brittle Turkey-Saudi relations but also alarm the kingdom’s supporters in the West and tarnish the reform drive spearheaded by the crown prince.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment,” Trump told CBS’s “60 Minutes,” according to an extract of an interview that was released Saturday.
“As of this moment, they [Saudi] deny it and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes,” Trump said in the interview, which was conducted Thursday.
At the White House on Saturday, Trump said that “nobody knows what happened” at the moment, and reiterated that he does not want potential repercussions for Saudi Arabia to include limitations on arms sales.
“I actually think we’d be punishing ourselves if we did that. There are other things we can do that are very, very powerful, very strong,” Trump said, without providing specifics.
Speaking about Khashoggi’s fate, Trump said: “Our first hope was that he was not killed, but maybe that’s not looking too good … from what we’re hearing.”
Ankara had said that a search of the consulate had been agreed but this has yet to materialize amid reports the two sides are at odds over the conditions of entry into what is Saudi sovereign territory.
“We still have not seen cooperation in order to ensure a smooth investigation and bring everything to light. We want to see this,” Cavusoglu said.
He said Riyadh must let Turkish “prosecutors and experts enter the consulate” to carry out their investigation.