Saudi prince to give first speech since Khashoggi’s slaying
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will give his first speech Wednesday to an international audience since the killing earlier this month of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Prince Mohammed’s anticipated remarks at the Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh come as the event, which was created by the royal, has been overshadowed by Khashoggi’s slaying and the international outrage over it.
International business leaders, officials, and others have pulled out of the summit, and the event’s first day saw several speakers acknowledge the killing of the Saudi writer whose columns criticized the prince’s campaign of arrests and governance.
Turkish officials say Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2 by a 15-man Saudi hit squad that included a member of Prince Mohammed’s entourage on overseas trips. Saudi Arabia has suggested, without offering evidence, that the team went rogue. However, no major decision in the kingdom is made without the approval of the ruling Al Saud family.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, continued to criticize the kingdom over Khashoggi’s killing.
“The cover-up was horrible. The execution was horrible,” Trump told journalists on Tuesday night at the White House. “But there should have never been an execution or a cover-up because it should have never happened.”
Trump later was asked about Prince Mohammed in an Oval Office interview with The Wall Street Journal.
“Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him,” Trump told the newspaper.
Shortly after Trump’s remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States was revoking the visas of some Saudi officials implicated in Khashoggi’s death.
The visa revocations are the Trump administration’s first punitive measures against the Saudis, who are seen as key allies in U.S. efforts to isolate Iran since Khashoggi disappeared.
Trump meanwhile has been criticizing Saudi Arabia and OPEC over high oil prices, calling for a production increase to drop gasoline prices ahead of America’s midterm elections.
The foreign ministers of the G7 group of nations said Saudi Arabia should conduct a credible investigation, “in full collaboration with the Turkish authorities.”
On Tuesday, the first day of the summit in Riyadh, the crown prince sat alongside King Abdullah II of Jordan during an afternoon session. Prince Mohammed also looked at some promotional booths outside the main hall as an excited crowd of mostly young Saudi men recorded the encounter on their phones.
At one summit session, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih described Khashoggi’s slaying as “abhorrent.”
“As we all know, these are difficult days for us in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “Nobody in the kingdom can justify it or explain it. From the leadership on down, we’re very upset of what has happened.”
The presence of Jordan’s king, as well as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, likely comes as an acknowledgment of the amount of financial support the kingdom offers the two nations. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who many believe was forced by Prince Mohammed to resign from his position during a visit to the kingdom last year, will also speak Wednesday at the conference.
Pakistan said Saudi Arabia will provide a $6 billion package of loans and deferred payments in an effort to resuscitate Islamabad’s flagging economy, struggling under the weight of a whopping $18 billion deficit. That deal came on the sidelines of the conference Tuesday. Pakistan also is seeking a loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Coinciding with the start of the conference, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a speech to parliament, largely confirming reports and leaks from anonymous officials in past days.
Erdogan said Tuesday that 15 Saudi officials arrived in Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi’s death and that a man, apparently dressed in the writer’s clothes, acted as a possible decoy by walking out of the consulate on the day of the disappearance.
“Why did these 15 people all with links to the event gather in Istanbul on the day of the murder? We are seeking answers. Who did these people get their orders from to go there? We are seeking answers,” Erdogan said. “When the murder is so clear, why were so many inconsistent statements made? Why is the body of a person who has officially been accepted as killed still not around?”
Turkish investigators, meanwhile, inspected a car belonging to the consulate and found three suitcases, a laptop computer and clothes inside, state television TRT reported. Authorities discovered the car at an underground garage on Monday.
In Riyadh on Tuesday, King Salman and Prince Mohammed received Khashoggi’s son, Salah, and his brother, Sahel, at the Yamama Palace, where the royals expressed their condolences.
A friend of the Khashoggi family told The Associated Press that Salah has been under a travel ban since last year. The individual spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal.
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.