Disappearance of Saudi Journalist Puts Trump In A Dilemma
Demands for transparency from Saudi Arabia following the mysterious disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi are putting the Trump administration in an awkward situation. Khashoggi was a Washington Post columnist who strangely vanished in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in early October.
Sources in the Turkish police believed that the 59-year-old Khashoggi, who is an outspoken critic of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and Saudi’s military intervention in Yemen, was murdered and dismembered when he was in the consulate office.
Recent developments claim that there are audio and video recordings of Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate. Investigations are also focusing on an Apple smartwatch Khashoggi was wearing that may have also been connected to his mobile phone, which was with Turkish fiancee Hetice Cengiz at that time.
On October 2, Khashoggi went to the consulate to get papers to marry Cengiz. His mobile phone was with his 36-year-old fiance who waited outside the building, but he never returned.
On the next day, Saudi authorities issued a statement claiming the journalist had walked out of the consulate office while Turkish officials insisted that he was still in the building. However, Turkish officials could not enter the consulate without a permit.
On October 9, a Turkish TV station showed CCTV footage of the journalist entering the consulate and then a suspicious looking black van entering the consulate area two hours later.
CCTV footage also tracked and showed the faces of 15 Saudi men arriving in Istanbul, entering the airport, booking hotel rooms, and leaving Turkey a few hours later. However, the Washington Post cast doubt on the accuracy of the footage as it did not have a consistent timeline and was edited.
Saudi Arabia Denies Accusations
Saudi has denied the accusations, calling the claims ‘baseless’.
“What has been circulating about orders to kill (Khashoggi) are lies and baseless allegations against the government of the kingdom,” Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud said Saturday.
Saudi has said it will cooperate with Turkey to investigate the case – the Turkish Foreign Ministry also stated it would raid the consulate territory as a part of the investigation.
However, if Turkey is ultimately not given permission to enter the consulate office, it will not be able to force a search of the consulate territory due to the Vienna Convention of 1963, which Turkey is a signatory to.
The convention stipulates consular and diplomatic immunity, Turkey cannot charge the alleged perpetrators, but they can be deemed a persona non grata (a person who is banned by a particular state from entering its territory), said Mahmut Koca, the dean of the Law School at Istanbul Sehir University.
What’s the U.S. reaction?
Despite being one of Saudi’s closest allies, the U.S. president Donald Trump at first pressed the oil-rich nation to explain the journalist’s disappearance, saying that Washington does not tolerate such acts. Controversially, though, he has also said he will not cancel a pending arms deal with the nation and has suggested that rogue killers may have murdered the journalist.
Cengiz urged Trump to find out what happened to her would-be-husband and is still optimistic that Khashoggi is still alive.
“Although my hope slowly fades away each passing day, I remain confident that Jamal is still alive. Perhaps I’m simply trying to hide from the thought that I have lost a great man whose love I had earned. As an individual who believes that life and death are in the hands of God, I pray to God alone for Jamal’s safe return,” Cengiz said in an article in The Washington Post.
The Trump administration has remained steadfast that it would not cancel its arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite condemnation over the kingdom’s human rights violation
“We don’t like it, not even a little bit. But whether or not we should stop $110 billion in this country knowing [Saudi Arabia has] four or five alternatives — two good alternatives? That would not be acceptable to me,” Trump said.
Will Trump impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia?
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are discussing possibly sanctioning Saudi Arabia if the allegations prove true. Other options are canceling arms deals and slashing U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia in the Yemen War, even though Trump would be reluctant to do so.
“Congress will not let this idly go by. This is something that enrages people, as it should,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told reporters
The situation is complicating U.S.-Saudi ties as Washington needs Riyadh to contain the influence of Iran in the region as the U.S. does not want Iran to threaten Israel. Retaining support for Saudi Arabia after the brutal murder of Khashoggi will put a stain on U.S.’ claims to be a defender of human rights.
The murder of Khashoggi comes just months after Saudi Arabia Saudi expelled the Canadian ambassador following Canada’s condemnation of Saudi Arabia over the arrest of Saudi human rights activists.