Turkey’s president has increased his pressure on Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments appear aimed at slowly intensifying the criticism while balancing the need to maintain the kingdom’s investments in Turkey and relations on other issues.
Meanwhile US President Donald Trump expressed reservations over withholding American arm sales to Saudi Arabia because of the issue. His comments coming as prominent American lawmakers increasingly criticised the Saudis, a longtime US security ally in the region.
Turkish officials fear Mr Khashoggi was killed by the Saudis after walking into the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, though they have not offered any evidence to support that.
The kingdom calls the allegation “baseless”, but has not offered any evidence to explain why Mr Khashoggi simply walked out of the consulate and disappeared though his fiancee waited outside for him.
Mr Erdogan was quoted by Turkish media on Thursday as telling journalists – flying with him back home from a visit to Hungary – that “we cannot remain silent to such an incident”.
Mr Erdogan asked: “How is it possible for a consulate, an embassy not to have security camera systems?
“Is it possible for the Saudi Arabian consulate where the incident occurred not to have camera systems?
“If a bird flew, if a mosquito appeared, these systems would catch them and (I believe) they (the Saudis) would have the most advanced of systems.”
Meanwhile, Mr Trump told reporters in the Oval Office he has a call in to Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who has appealed to the president and first lady Melania Trump for help. Mr Trump said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation”, but he did not disclose details of his conversations.
He also said the US was working “very closely” with Turkey, “and I think we’ll get to the bottom of it”.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said national security adviser John Bolton and presidential senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke on Tuesday to Crown Prince Mohammed about Mr Khashoggi.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had a follow-up call with the crown prince to reiterate the US request for information and a thorough, transparent investigation.
In an interview later on Wednesday with Fox News, Mr Trump said he wanted to find out what happened to Mr Khashoggi but appeared reluctant to consider blocking arms sales, citing economic reasons.
“I think that would be hurting us,” he said.
“We have jobs, we have a lot of things happening in this country. We have a country that’s doing probably better economically than it’s ever done before.
“Part of that is what we’re doing with our defence systems and everybody’s wanting them.
“And frankly, I think that that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country. I mean, you’re affecting us and, you know, they’re always quick to jump that way.”
On his first international trip as president, Mr Trump visited Saudi Arabia and announced 110 billion dollars in proposed arms sales.
The administration also relies on Saudi support for its Middle East agenda to counter Iranian influence, fight extremism and support an expected peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr Khashoggi had gone to the consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to get paperwork he needed for his upcoming marriage while his Turkish fiancee waited outside.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that US intelligence intercepts outlined a Saudi plan to detain Mr Khashoggi.
The Post, citing anonymous US officials familiar with the intelligence, said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered an operation to lure Mr Khashoggi from his home in Virginia, where he lived most recently, to Saudi Arabia and then detain him.