Middle East

Pompeo to seek update on Khashoggi investigation during Middle East tour

Pompeo has stood by Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of Khashoggi's murder (AFP/File photo)

Mike Pompeo will seek an update on Saudi Arabia's investigation into journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder later this month during a visit to Riyadh, one of eight stops the US secretary of state will be making across the Middle East.

Pompeo is expected to meet with Saudi leaders to discuss the situations in Yemen, Iran and Syria, his office said in a statement on Friday, which outlined the visits on his regional tour from 8-15 January.

"The Secretary also will seek an update on the status of the investigation into the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi," said Robert Palladino, the State Department's deputy spokesman, in the statement.

Pompeo has repeatedly defended Saudi Arabia amid the scandal surrounding the killing of Khashoggi, a Saudi government critic and prominent columnist at the Washington Post who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October.


Pompeo vows US to keep aiding Saudis in Yemen in spite of furore, famine

Middle East Eye reported in November that the US secretary of state even handed Saudi leaders a roadmap to weather the fallout of the journalist's death.

While Saudi leaders have repeatedly denied the country's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, knew anything about Khashoggi's killing, human rights groups, US politicians – including the entire Senate – and the CIA have all come to the conclusion that bin Salman, known as MBS, ordered his assassination.

Despite this, Pompeo has remained steadfast in his support of MBS and the Saudi government, as have key members of Donald Trump's administration, including the US president himself.

Early last month, Pompeo vowed to continue supporting Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen, despite growing calls in Washington to halt US assistance to the Saudi-led coalition fighting there.

He has also repeatedly said there is no "direct evidence" linking MBS to Khashoggi's gruesome murder on 2 October.

In a Wall Street Journal column published late in November, Pompeo said the US-Saudi partnership was "vital" to US national security interests and the stabilisation of the Middle East.

"Riyadh is helping manage the flood of refugees fleeing Syrias civil war by working with host countries, cooperating closely with Egypt, and establishing stronger ties with Israel," Pompeo wrote.

Saudi probe lacks 'credibility and accountability'

On Friday, a senior US official said Saudi Arabia's investigation and handling of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi still lacks full credibility and accountability, as reported by AFP news agency.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia's prosecutor announced that the trial of 11 Saudis accused of being involved in Khashoggi's murder had started in the Gulf kingdom.

The death penalty would be recommended against five of those suspects, the prosecutor said on Thursday.

So far, none of the suspects' identities have been released publicly.

I don't think, from our point of view, that the narrative emerging from the Saudis throughout the legal process has yet hit that threshold of credibility and accountability

– Senior US official

The US official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Pompeo intends to "continue to push for accountability and credibility from the Saudi leadership as they move through the legal process that began earlier this week", AFP reported.

"I don't think, from our point of view, that the narrative emerging from the Saudis throughout the legal process has yet hit that threshold of credibility and accountability," the official said.

Saudi Arabia will be Pompeo's sixth stop on an eight-country tour of the Middle East.

Before landing in Riyadh, he will visit Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where he will lead a US delegation at the US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue in Doha, his office said.

Qatar remains embroiled in a diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and several other of its former regional allies, which imposed a blockade on the small Gulf peninsula in 2017.

Pompeo will meet with Qatari leaders to discuss "the importance of a united Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)", Palladino said in the State Department's statement.

Having a united GCC will help stand against "the Iranian regimes destabilizing activity and advancing peace, prosperity, and security in the region", Palladino said.

The US secretary of state will end his trip with stops in Oman and Kuwait, where he is again expected to stress the importance of unity in the region.

Original Article


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