US President Donald Trump has said “severe punishment” awaits Saudi Arabia if the alleged murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul turns out to be true.
In an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes, Trump said there was much at stake with Khashoggi case, “maybe especially so” because he was a reporter.
“There’s something – you’ll be surprised to hear me say that – there’s something really terrible and disgusting about that if that were the case, so we’re going to have to see,” said the US president, who had previously attacked some media outlets in his own country as “enemy of the people”.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment.”
The interview, which took place in the White House on Thursday, will be aired on CBS channel on Sunday.
In it, Trump also said that his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is close with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), spoke to the royal about the disappearance of Khashoggi.
According to Trump, the Saudis “deny it (the killing) in every way you can imagine”.
When asked whether he would consider Saudi sanctions, Trump said he was reluctant to stop supplying Riyadh with US weaponry.
“I don’t want to lose an order like that,” he said, referring to the multibillion-dollar arms deal struck with the oil-rich kingdom last year.
“And you know what, there are other ways of punishing, to use a word that’s a pretty harsh word, but it’s true.”
Khashoggi has not been heard of or seen since he entered the Saudi consulate on October 2 to obtain paperwork needed to marry his Turkish fiancee.
The prominent journalist, who was once close to the Saudi ruling family but grew increasingly critical of MBS’ policies, especially after his self-imposed exile from Saudi Arabia in September 2017 to Washington, DC.
Footage released shows Khashoggi entering the consulate building. However, no footage has been released showing his exit from the consulate. Saudi insisted that he left and maintained that it did not commit any wrongdoing.
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, but have provided no evidence. Some leaks to the media have claimed that he was tortured and even dismembered.
The outcry surrounding his disappearance threatens to not just harm brittle Turkish-Saudi relations but also alarm the kingdom’s supporters in the West and tarnish the reform drive spearheaded by the crown prince.
Ankara has so far trodden carefully in the controversy, with the most sensational allegations splashed in the pro-government press but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has so far stopped short of directly accusing Riyadh of wrongdoing.
Turkey and Saudi have an uneasy relationship, with disputes over the ousting of the Islamist government in Egypt and the blockade imposed on Ankara’s ally Qatar.
But Erdogan has generally been wary of needling the oil-rich conservative kingdom and on Saturday again gave a long speech to supporters without mentioning the issue.
The spokesperson of Erdogan’s ruling party, Omer Celik, acknowledged on Saturday that there were “extremely sensational claims” about Khashoggi’s fate in the media and said there would be “severe consequences” for anyone found responsible if they were true.
“Far from the speculation, work is being carried out in the most sensitive way to find out what happened,” he said in televised comments.
Saudi cooperation a must
Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign minister said Saudi Arabia must cooperate with the investigation and allow Turkish officials to enter its Istanbul consulate.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday during a visit to London, Mevlut Cavusoglu said there is a consensus on forming a joint working group with Saudi officials over the case of Khashoggi.
The foreign minister’s comments came after a delegation from Saudi Arabia arrived in Turkey on Friday for a joint investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The state Saudi Press Agency quoted an official Saudi source saying it was “a positive move” Turkey had agreed to the creation of what it described as a “joint action team”.
The two sides are expected to meet this weekend. Despite Riyadh’s initial agreement on Tuesday to let Turkish authorities search the Saudi mission, the probe has not yet taken place.