CAIRO, Oct. 11 (SEE) – U.S. President Donald Trump increased pressure on Saudi Arabia to acknowledge the whereabouts of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying he wanted to “get the bottom” of what he called “a very serious situation.”
Pressure appeared to be building worldwide on close U.S. ally Saudi Arabia on the whereabouts of Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi policies, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get documents for his planned marriage on Oct. 2nd. .
Turkish sources said they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the building and removed, allegations that Riyadh dismisses as baseless.
Asked in a telephone interview with Fox News Channel late on Wednesday whether Saudis were responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance or death, Trump said: “I guess you would have to say so far it’s looking a little bit like that and we’re going to have to see.”
Earlier in the Oval Office, Trump told reporters he had raised Khashoggi’s case with Saudi Arabia “at the highest level” and more than once in recent days.
“We’re demanding everything,” Trump said when asked if he was demanding information from the Saudis. “We want to see what’s going on. It’s a very serious situation for us and for this White House … We want to get to the bottom of it.”
“People saw him go in and didn’t see him come out. We’re going to take a very serious look at it. It’s a terrible thing,” Trump said. “This is a bad situation. We cannot let this happen, to reporters, to anybody. We can’t let this happen.”
Increasing pressure on Trump to respond, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Wednesday triggered a U.S. investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance using a human rights law. They asked Trump to determine whether “a foreign person is responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights” and report back in 120 days with a decision on the imposition of sanctions on whoever was responsible.
Asked about suggestions that Washington should consider blocking further arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Trump told Fox that would hurt U.S. jobs. “Frankly I think that would be a very very tough pill to swallow for our country. … Before I discuss this I’d have to find out what happened,” he said.
Former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said he has suspended his role on the board of Saudi Arabia’s planned mega city NEOM until more is known about Khashoggi.
After Trump spoke, the White House said national security adviser John Bolton and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, had spoken to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about the matter on Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed up with his own call to the crown prince, who had forged close ties to the administration, especially Kushner.
“In both calls they asked for more details and for the Saudi government to be transparent in the investigation process. We will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates as available,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia last year saying he feared retribution for his criticism of Riyadh over the Yemen war and its crackdown on dissent, and since then wrote columns for the Washington Post.
Britain’s foreign minister called for urgent answers and the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker, who has seen classified intelligence on the case, said information pointed to Khashoggi being killed.
“To me … it feels very much some nefarious activity has occurred by them. But I don’t want to rush to judgment,” Corker said on Tuesday.
Wednesday’s Turkish media reports were the most detailed accounts yet of what they say is the Turkish government’s investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Sabah newspaper published the names and years of birth of 15 Saudis it said arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport. Twelve of them arrived early on Tuesday (Oct. 2nd), based on photos captured at passport control which it published. The 15 departed at four different times later in the same day, Sabah reported.