Mike Pompeo in Saudi Arabia

Leah Millis/Pool via AP

Mike Pompeo Meets Saudi King Over Khashoggi's Disappearance

October 16, 2018 - 8:25 am

ISTANBUL (WCBS 880/AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met on Tuesday with Saudi Arabia's King Salman over the disappearance and alleged slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, who vanished two weeks ago during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Pompeo's arrival came hours after a Turkish forensics team finished a search inside the consulate. Police planned a second search, this one of the Saudi consul's home in Istanbul, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said.

“What we do now is that Turkish officials today after their forensic experts entered the consulate and the consul general left the country, told reporters that Jamal Khashoggi’s body was cut up into pieces, shipped out of the country, and they’re looking into toxic materials which were, they thought, removed and painted them over is what they said. And therefore, maybe what the Turkish authorities are saying is a cover-up,” said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk.

Turkish officials say they fear Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the Istanbul consulate. Saudi officials previously have called the allegations "baseless," but reports in U.S. media on Tuesday suggested the kingdom may acknowledge the writer was killed there.

Pompeo landed in Riyadh on Tuesday morning and was welcomed by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on landing. He didn't make any remarks to the media.

Soon after, Pompeo arrived at a royal palace, where King Salman greeted him. America's top diplomat thanked the king "for accepting my visit on behalf of President (Donald) Trump" before going into a closed-door meeting.

Trump had dispatched Pompeo to speak to the monarch of the world's top oil exporter over Khashoggi's disappearance. Trump, after speaking on Monday with King Salman, said without offering evidence that the slaying could have been carried out by "rogue killers." That potentially offers the U.S.-allied kingdom a possible path out of a global diplomatic firestorm.

"The king firmly denied any knowledge of it," Trump told reporters 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."

Pompeo is also meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Khashoggi wrote critically about for The Washington Post and whose rise to power prompted the writer to go into a self-imposed exile in the United States.

Reporters were brought into the room where the two were meeting but CBS News White House Correspondent Steven Portnoy told WCBS 880 that not much was gleaned from their interactions.

"There was some small talk talk about how jet lagged Pompeo must be, he was sent at midday yesterday by President Trump to Saudi Arabia to meet with the Saudi officials to talk about all this. The one indication we got that they're discussing some of the tension now that exists around the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi is with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, saying that the US and Saudi Arabia are strong and old allies," Portnoy reported. "He said quote, 'We face our challenges together -- the past, the day of and tomorrow. Obviously there are challenges now.'"

"The effort behind the scenes is focused on avoiding a diplomatic crisis between the two countries and has succeeded in finding a pathway to deescalate tensions," said Ayham Kamel, the head of the Eurasia Group's Mideast and North African practice. "Riyadh will have to provide some explanation of the journalist's disappearance, but in a manner that distances the leadership from any claim that a decision was made at senior levels to assassinate the prominent journalist."

CNN reported that the Saudis were going to admit the killing happened but deny the king or crown prince had ordered it — which does not match what analysts and experts know about the kingdom's inner workings.

The New York Times reported that the Saudi royal court would suggest that an official within the kingdom's intelligence services — a friend of Prince Mohammed — had carried out the killing. According to that reported claim, the crown prince had approved an interrogation or rendition of Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, but the intelligence official was tragically incompetent as he eagerly sought to prove himself. Both reports cited anonymous people said to be familiar with the Saudi plans.

But on Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump tweeted that the Crown Prince, while with Pompeo, again denied any knowledge of what happened in the Turkish consulate.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said Salman has “got to go.”

This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it. I feel used and abused," Graham said in a “Fox and Friends interview.”

Long Island U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, said Graham’s claim that the Crown Prince had Khashoggi murdered is “certainly one of the possibilities.”

“No matter what the determination is, it’s going to make the Saudis look very bad. I mean, this is disgraceful what happened. It’s just a question of how bad it was. But if you have a Saudi citizen – an American resident – being killed and murdered in the Saudi consulate, this is absolutely indefensible. It’s disgraceful,” King said, “and whether it was Prince bin Salman himself – the Crown Prince – or whether it was others in his government, either way, he’s running the show. So if he directed it, that’s horrible. If he didn’t and it happened, then it shows he doesn’t have control over his own government, which is almost as bad.”

King said action will have to be taken.

“Certainly there can be different economic sanctions that can be put on. We can have some restrictions in arms sales. I mean, the issue here is that I’ve never trusted the Saudis, but in the last several years, for their own interests, they’ve been a strong ally of the Middle East, against Iran, against ISIS, against al-Qaeda, and they’ve been supportive of Israel. Now, they’re doing that for their own reasons, and it could turn on a dime. But I want to keep the Saudis, to the extent we can, working with us against Iran,” King said. “On the other hand, we can’t sacrifice our values.”

Saudi officials have not answered repeated requests for comment over recent days from The Associated Press.

Saudi officials have been in and out of the building since Khashoggi's disappearance Oct. 2 without being stopped. Under the Vienna Convention, diplomatic posts are technically foreign soil that must be protected and respected by host countries.

Turkey has wanted to search the consulate for days. Permission apparently came after a late Sunday night call between King Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In statements after the call, both praised the creation of a joint Saudi-Turkish probe.

The Turkish inspection team included a prosecutor, a deputy prosecutor, anti-terror police and forensic experts, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. Certain areas of the consulate were to remain off-limits, although officials would be able to inspect surveillance cameras, Turkish media reported.

What evidence Turkish officials gathered at the consulate remains unknown. Turkey's private DHA news agency said the Saudi consul's office was among the rooms searched.

On Tuesday, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official acknowledged police want to search the Saudi consul's home as well. Surveillance footage previously leaked in Turkish media shows vehicles moving between the consulate and the consul's home immediately after Khashoggi's disappearance.

The Foreign Ministry official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.

Khashoggi has written extensively for the Post about Saudi Arabia, criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women's rights activists after the lifting of a driving ban for women. Those policies are all seen as initiatives of Prince Mohammed, the son of King Salman, who is next in line to the throne.

Prince Mohammed has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. But Khashoggi'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.

They include the CEO of Uber, a company in which Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars; billionaire Richard Branson; JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon; and Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford.

Trump previously warned of "severe punishment" for the kingdom if it was found to be involved in Khashoggi's disappearance, which has spooked investors in Saudi Arabia and SoftBank, a Japanese firm that manages tens of billions of dollars for the kingdom.

Trump's warning drew an angry response Sunday from Saudi Arabia and its state-linked media, including a suggestion that Riyadh could wield its oil production as a weapon. The U.S. 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 oil sanctions on Iran after the U.S. withdrawal from that's country's nuclear deal with world powers.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report)