WASHINGTON -- US President Donald Trump on Wednesday demanded that Saudi Arabia provide answers over the disappearance of journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi, whom Turkish officials suspect was murdered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The Trump administration sharply upped the pressure, reversing an initially low-key response after Washington Post contributor Khashoggi vanished on October 2.
Trump said he had talked “more than once” and “at the highest levels” to partners in Saudi Arabia, which is one of Washington’s closest allies and a key market for the US weapons industry.
“We’re demanding everything,” Trump told reporters. “We cannot let this happen, to reporters, to anybody.”
“We are very disappointed to see what’s going on. We don’t like it and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” he added.
In a later interview with “Fox News at Night,” Trump said “it would not be a good thing at all” if the Saudis were proven to be involved.
Twenty-two senators wrote to Trump invoking the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which requires the president to open an investigation and determine whether sanctions should be imposed.
The act is used in cases of suspected “extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression,” the senators said.
Asked in the Fox interview about suggestions in Congress that arms sales to the kingdom be blocked, Trump replied that such a move would hurt the US economy.
“Frankly, I think that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country,” he said.
Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s close aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner had all spoken to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the past two days.
The United States has not confirmed Turkish claims that Khashoggi, a US resident and one of the more outspoken critics of the regime of King Salman and his son Prince Mohammed, had been lured to the Istanbul consulate and murdered by a team of 15 government operatives sent by Riyadh to Istanbul.
But The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Prince Mohammed himself had ordered an operation targeting Khashoggi.
Saudi officials were heard discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi from the US state of Virginia, where he resided, and detain him, the newspaper said, citing unnamed US officials discussing intelligence intercepts.
The case has sparked outrage from human rights and journalism groups.
In the calls by Bolton, Kushner and Pompeo, Sanders said, “they asked for more details and for the Saudi government to be transparent in the investigation process.”