Turkey, Saudis Spar Over Missing Journalist Probe as U.S. Eases Pressure

By David Gauthier-Villars and Jessica Donati (Wall Street Journal)

Oct. 17, 2018 8:30 a.m. ET

U.S.’s Mike Pompeo says it is ‘reasonable’ to believe Saudi denials of involvement in Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance

Turkey and Saudi Arabia sparred over the scope of Ankara’s probe into the suspected killing of Jamal Khashoggi, as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the kingdom following the release of evidence that Turkey says proves Saudi operatives killed the journalist.

Mr. Pompeo met with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, a day after he held similar meetings with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.

Washington has emerged as a mediator between the two Middle Eastern powers, who are locked in a dispute over the Oct. 2 disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi, a critic of the ruling royal family in Saudi Arabia.

Turkish officials have audio recording proving that Mr. Khashoggi was beaten, drugged, killed and dismembered by operatives inside the office of the Saudi consul in Istanbul, minutes after walking into the consulate, say people familiar with the matter.

The Saudi consul general, Mohammad al-Otaibi, left Turkey for the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Tuesday afternoon. Saudi authorities deny any involvement in the disappearance.

Turkish demands to search the consul’s office have emerged as a fresh point of conflict between the Saudis and the Turks. After meeting with Mr. Pompeo, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara wished to extend its search of Saudi diplomatic buildings in Istanbul to Mr. al-Otaibi’s residence, but had yet to receive authorization from Riyadh.

Turkish inspectors, who spent nine hours searching the consulate building for clues earlier this week, were ready to inspect the residence Tuesday, the minister said. But Saudi officials refused because the consul’s family was still inside, he said.

“We are hoping to go into (the building) today,” Mr. Cavusoglu said Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia didn’t authorize the inspection because the kingdom’s authorities were upset after learning that Turkish officials had leaked the evidence of their involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance to the media, a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Pompeo left the meetings with Messrs. Erdogan and Cavusoglu without making comment. Before flying from Riyadh to Turkey Wednesday morning, he told reporters that it was “reasonable” to believe Saudi Arabia’s denials and wait for the results of an investigation.

The secretary told reporters at King Salman Air Base that he was reassured by Saudi Arabia’s promises to carry out a thorough and transparent investigation.

“That was the purpose of the visit—in that sense, it was incredibly successful,” he said. “We received commitments they would complete this and I’m counting on them to do that.”

A statement following Mr. Pompeo’s meetings in Turkey said Mr. Pompeo offered Ankara U.S. assistance with the investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.

It was the latest sign that the U.S. is rowing back pressure on Saudi Arabia over the incident. President Trump initially threatened the kingdom with reprisals if proof emerged of Riyadh’s involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.

But Tuesday, Mr. Trump resisted calls to cut back U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying the $100 billion in U.S.-Saudi arms deals are important to American companies and workers. Mr. Pompeo echoed Mr. Trump’s remarks on Wednesday, saying the trip to Saudi Arabia had covered a range of topics relating to U.S.- Saudi interests.

On Monday, Saudi authorities weighed whether to declare that unauthorized operatives killed Mr. Khashoggi during a botched interrogation, in a bid to defuse growing diplomatic pressure on the kingdom, according to people familiar with the situation. It isn’t known whether they are still considering that.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pompeo met with the families of three Turkish employees of the U.S. embassy who have been detained in a crackdown led by Mr. Erdogan following an attempted coup in 2016. It wasn’t clear whether any progress has been made toward securing their release, or the release of other dual U.S.-Turkish citizens also being detained in Turkey.

A U.S. statement said the secretary also discussed the “wrongful” detention of other U.S. citizens and local Turkish employees of the U.S. embassy during his meetings with Turkish officials.

Last week, Turkey released U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson who had been detained for two years for allegedly aiding the group that organized the attempted coup. Mr. Brunson’s detention became a cause célèbre among evangelical Christian groups, a key voter base for Mr. Trump, and the single greatest obstacle in the relationship between the two countries that are cooperating in the war against Islamic State in Syria.


Write to David Gauthier-Villars at David.Gauthier-Villars@wsj.com and Jessica Donati at jessica.donati@wsj.com