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NEWS ANALYSIS: Khashoggi Killing: Saudi Arabia And Brewing Diplomatic Crisis

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There is no gainsaying the fact that the killing of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, on Oct. 2 in Saudi Arabia’s Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, is one of the most controversial issues on the global stage in recent times.

The assassination of the Washington Post writer has elicited widespread criticisms across the world as a classical example of organised state terror in the 21st Century civilisation.

Khashoggi, who left Saudi Arabia on a self-imposed exile to the U.S. in September 2017, had written several newspaper articles that were critical of the Saudi authorities.

His write-ups were particularly critical of the Saudi Arabia Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and his controversial tactics to consolidate power, which led to the arrest of powerful business executives and some members of the royal family.

This, perhaps, informed the widespread speculation that Khashoggi was slain because of his open criticism of the crown prince but the Saudi authorities have vehemently rejected the allegation, insisting that the Saudi royals never played a part in his death.

Khashoggi, a few days to his 60th birthday, entered the consulate to obtain documents that would clear the way for his impending marriage to his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, but never came out from the premises.

Cengiz, who reportedly waited for Khashoggi outside the consulate for roughly 11 hours, insisted that he never came out.

Expectedly, the incident has further worsened Saudi Arabia’s human rights reputation but ironically, it has inadvertently boosted the human rights reputation of Turkey, with the Turkish President Recep Erdogan emerging as an unlikely defender of justice and truth-telling.

Erdogan’s new status has somewhat toned down his unenviable human rights record since his assumption of power in 2003, as more than 177 journalists are currently languishing in different Turkish jails.

Turkish crime scene investigators have carried out a search of the consulate, while Turkish officials insisted that the journalist was murdered there and his body removed — an allegation the Saudis have strongly denied.

Cable News Network (CNN), however, reported that the Khashoggi’s killing was organised by a high-ranking officer with the General Intelligence Presidency, Saudi’s main intelligence service.

“Several officials who CNN spoke with said that the mission could not have happened without the direct knowledge of the 33-year-old crown prince,’’ said the report.

Saudi officials, who initially said that Khashoggi had left the consulate, later conceded that he died in an unplanned “rogue operation”. The kingdom’s public prosecutor, Saud al-Mojeb, has since admitted the journalist was killed in a premeditated attack.

Nevertheless, it has been over six weeks since Khashoggi’s disappearance and there have been claims, counter-claims and reactions on the journalist’s disappearance.

Saudi officials have admitted that he was killed inside the embassy by a team of agents sent from Riyadh but so far, his body has yet to be been recovered.

The only findings made public from the Turkish investigation so far is that freshly painted surfaces were found in the consulate and all of the cars searched had been “thoroughly cleaned’’.

Luminol, a chemical which detects traces of blood, has been used by forensics teams and dozens of boxes, while bags of evidence have been taken for laboratory testing. Riyadh has not commented on the ongoing investigation.

Since Khashoggi’s disappearance in October, Turkish and Saudi authorities have carried out multiple searches at the consulate and consul-general’s residence in Istanbul.

At least 38 people have been questioned so far and Turkey recently announced that it was dedicating a total of 750 police officers to the investigation of the killing of Khashoggi, who is survived by his ex-wife, two sons, two daughters and fiancee Hatice Cengiz.

A statement from Khashoggi’s children has called on the United Nations (UN) to launch an independent inquiry into their father’s death, while imploring the Turkish and Saudi authorities to locate his remains so as to facilitate his funeral.

U.S. President Donald Trump has invited Cengiz — Khashoggi’s fiancee who accompanied him to his fateful consulate appointment — to the White House but the academic said that she would only meet the president if he “makes a genuine contribution to the efforts to reveal what happened inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that day’’.

Foreign affairs analysts say that the Khashoggi killing has negatively affected the international image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his influence and clout in particular.

Confidence in the prince’s judgement and temperament has somewhat plummeted, as the analysts insist that the murder could only have been carried out with his knowledge. Even his staunchest allies in the West have struggled to give him political cover, they add.

Dr Olusola Aggrey, Managing Consultant of Aggrey and Savage Consult, said that those, who had overlooked a regressive political landscape because of socio-economic reforms and downgraded ties between the state and religious establishment, might no longer be prepared to do so.

Aggrey, a political scientist, said that the Khashoggi crisis had particularly affected the celebrity appeal of the Saudi crown prince, while his reliability as a partner in efforts to accomplish the goals of U.S. President Trump’s administration in the Middle East region had now become questionable.

“Prince Mohammed Salman was seen as central to the anti-Iran posture of the U.S. and a regional outreach to Israel. The Khashoggi crisis may make the two policies to now experience some difficulties,’’ he said.

He said that even within the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the dissent, which Mohammed had ruthlessly tried to stifle, might receive a sudden boost and pose a challenge to his future on the throne.

On a wider dimension, the Khashoggi crisis has significantly affected Saudi Arabia’s relationship with European countries.

For instance, Germany, Belgium, Austria and the European Parliament have led calls for a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia but Britain and France — two major arms sellers to the kingdom — have held back.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been somewhat cautious to make a categorical statement on the crisis, as he simply said that he was waiting for the outcome of the investigation before making any move. France reportedly sold arms worth 1.5 billion euro to Saudi Arabia last year.

Britain has also announced its plans to withdraw any visas granted to the 18 Saudi nationals who were allegedly responsible for Khashoggi’s killing. Even though the penalty appears only symbolic, it may trigger the onset of some form of coordinated response, probably at the level of G7 foreign ministers.

In the Persian Gulf region itself, criticism has been muted but Qatar, which has been in a long-running dispute with Saudi Arabia, has described the Khashoggi killing as a wake-up call for the entire region, while demanding a transparent investigation.

As part of efforts to pile pressure on the Saudi authorities to unravel the mystery surrounding the killing, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Monday, Nov. 12, travelled to Saudi Arabia and met with the Saudi leaders on certain contentious issues, including the investigation into the Khashoggi killing.

Hunt once said the UK response to the murder would in part be determined by the level of Saudi cooperation with the inquiry and the credibility of assurances that such a killing would never be repeated.

Speaking ahead of the visit to Riyadh, Hunt said: “The international community remain united in horror and outrage at the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi one month ago.

“It is clearly unacceptable that the full circumstances behind his murder still remain unclear.

“We encourage the Saudi authorities to cooperate fully with the Turkish investigation into his death, so that we deliver justice for his family and the watching world.’’

In a Twitter message, Hunt said that he had pressed the Saudi royals for answers on the murder and to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the regime had been waging war against rebels.

His words: “I met King Salman and Foreign Minister Adel Aljubeir this morning, and will see the Crown Prince as well as UAE and Yemeni politicians this afternoon.

“We have been discussing Khashoggi but also the vital need to seize the moment in Yemen and stop famine and cholera intensifying.’’

But concerned observers have warned that Hunt’s visit to the kingdom should not end up in “polite’’ chats but aimed at getting real, concrete answers from the Saudis.

UK Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said: “It will be a deep concern if Jeremy Hunt’s visit represents yet more empty talk, when what we urgently need is concrete action to hold Saudi Arabia to account for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi…’’

Besides, Kate Allen, UK’s Director of Amnesty International, said: “It’s not enough for Jeremy Hunt to politely ask the Saudi authorities to investigate Khashoggi’s murder; there should be a UN investigation.’’

All the same, the meeting is the first between a senior Western minister and the Saudi royal family since the full circumstances of Khashoggi’s killing became clear, including the enforced Saudi admission that its intelligence agents killed the journalist in a premeditated murder.

Apart from Britain, the U.S. – a strong ally of Saudi Arabia – has also called for the cooperation of the Saudis on the investigations into the Khashoggi killing.

On Sunday, Nov. 11, the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed via a telephone call that the U.S. would hold accountable all those involved in the killing of the Washington Post journalist.

“The secretary (Pompeo) emphasised that the U.S. will hold all of those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable, and that Saudi Arabia must do the same,” Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, said in a statement.

U.S. President Trump said that Saudi Arabia’s explanation for how Khashoggi was killed was credible, adding what happened at the consulate was, nonetheless, “unacceptable’’.

Speaking to reporters at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, Trump said that Khashoggi’s death was a “horrible event’’ that had not gone “unnoticed’’ but he noted that the announcement on the circumstances of the journalist’s death was a “good first step’’.

“Saudi Arabia has been a great ally, but what happened is unacceptable,’’ he added.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she did not accept Saudi Arabia’s explanations regarding the death of Khashoggi, Bloomberg has reported.

“They still haven’t been cleared up and of course, we demand that they be cleared up,’’ Merkel said at a regional convention of her Christian Democratic Union Party in eastern Germany.

She added that the “horrific events’’ surrounding the journalist’s killing was a warning that democratic freedoms were under assault across the globe.

Similarly, Denmark and the Netherlands have condemned Saudi Arabia’s account of Khashoggi’s death, describing it as half-truth.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said that he was unconvinced by Saudi Arabia’s account of the journalist’s death, Bloomberg also reported.

“The fact that the Saudis have confirmed that Khashoggi died, after previously insisting that he left the consulate alive, shows that we haven’t been told the full truth.

“And we must insist on getting that,’’ Rasmussen was quoted as saying in Copenhagen after talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who also described Khashoggi’s killing as “shocking’’.

The two leaders have called for an investigation into his death by the UN and other Western powers.

Besides, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that his country condemned the killing of Khashoggi and called for a thorough investigation into the incident.

“France condemns this murder in the strongest terms. The confirmation of Jamal Khashoggi’s death is a first step toward the establishment of the truth; however, many questions remain unanswered,’’ Le Drian said in a statement.

Le Drian stressed that all those responsible for Khashoggi’s death should be held accountable.

While Spain has condemned the killing, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he was “deeply troubled’’ by Riyadh’s confirmation of Khashoggi’s death.

Guterres in a statement called for a “prompt, thorough, transparent’’ probe into the circumstances of the killing and urged full accountability for those who were responsible for it.

“The secretary-general is deeply troubled by the confirmation of the death of Jamal Khashoggi. He extends his condolences to Mr Khashoggi’s family and friends,’’ the statement from his office said.

All in all, there has been global outcry on the Khashoggi killing and its investigation processes but Turkey insists that it has proof of what transpired in the Saudi consulate on the day when the journalist was murdered.

Turkey’s President Erdogan said on Saturday, Nov. 11, that recordings related to Khashoggi’s death had been passed on to Saudi Arabia, the U.S., UK, Germany and France, a CNN report in Istanbul said.

Speaking before his departure to Paris for World War I commemorations, Erdogan said: “We passed on the recordings. We gave them to Saudi Arabia, to America, to the Germans, French and the English — we gave them all.’’

He, however, failed to elaborate on what was on the recordings.

Erdogan said that Khashoggi’s killers would be known to the 18 suspects identified by Turkish authorities — including 15 men who arrived from Saudi Arabia shortly before Khashoggi’s death.

He again called on Saudi Arabia to provide answers as to what happened to Khashoggi and his body, which had yet to be found.

Erdogan has previously demanded that Saudi Arabia should hand over the 18 suspects for prosecution in Turkey but the kingdom has insisted that those responsible for Khashoggi’s death would be tried in Saudi Arabia.

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia’s top prosecutor is recommending death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing of Khashoggi.

Saud al-Mojeb told a press conference in Riyadh on Thursday, Nov. 15, that Khashoggi’s killers had set in motion plans for the killing on Sept. 29, three days before he was killed inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, ABC News reported.

The prosecutor said that the highest-level official behind the killing was Saudi former deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri, who had been fired for ordering Khashoggi’s forced return.

The prosecutor said that 21 people were now in custody; while 11 persons, who were indicted, would face trial.

From all indications, the story has just begun because more startling revelations on Khashoggi’s death could still emerge, as investigations continue.

But one thing is quite certain: the diplomatic crisis, which is brewing over the killing, may seriously affect Saudi Arabia’s relations with several countries if pragmatic strategies are not initiated to tackle it on time.





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