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Oct 11 2018

Erdoğan urges caution over Khashoggi disappearance - updates

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he would not speculate about the disappearance of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a news report said the Saudi royal family ordered his detainment, citing U.S. intelligence.

Turkey is tracking the movement of Saudis in and out of the country after Khashoggi’s disappearance at the Saudi Consulate on Oct. 2 and the United States now shares the same concerns about his fate, Erdoğan told reporters.

The Turkish president, speaking on his plane as he returned from an official visit to Hungary, said he could not understand how the camera system at the consulate could not track Khashoggi’s departure from the consulate when “it could even detect a bird flying”.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi royal family, was last seen entering the consulate on Oct. 2. Turkish officials, declining to be identified, have told various news outlets that a team of Saudi agents working under the orders of the royal family murdered and dismembered him before transporting the body out of the country.

The disappearance of Khashoggi has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which is also known for its imprisonment of journalists and its kidnapping of dissidents.

U.S. intelligence intercepts have revealed that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered that Khashoggi be lured into detention, according to a report by the Washington Post. It cited U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence.

Relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia have deteriorated over the past year after Erdoğan sided with Qatar in its dispute with Saudi-led Gulf states. Khashoggi’s disappearance has also sparked anger among U.S. lawmakers and other officials.

Khashoggi was to be enticed to return to Saudi Arabia from the United States, the Washington Post said. His disappearance in Istanbul may have meant that a substitute plan went awry, analysts and officials have speculated.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on late Wednesday that he thought it was likely that the Saudis had killed Khashoggi and said he would be upset if it were confirmed, adding that cutting off arms sales to Saudi Arabia as a punishment would hurt the United States.

“We have investigators over there and we're working with Turkey, and frankly we're working with Saudi Arabia. We want to find out what happened,” Trump said.

Turkish diplomatic sources, who asked Anadolu Agency not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media, said on Thursday that reports about the United States appointing investigator over Khashoggi’s disappearance were not true.

The White House turned up pressure on Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi, the New York Times said. Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law, and national security adviser John Bolton both spoke to bin Salman by phone, the White House said. 

“In both calls, they asked for more details and for the Saudi government to be transparent in the investigation process,” said the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The disappearance of Khashoggi leaves Erdoğan with yet another diplomatic conundrum to deal with in the region, the Middle East Institute said in a report.

Turkey would prefer to avoid another crisis with a Middle East power, especially for economic reasons, because ties with the United States are weak and Turkey’s relationship with Russia is also becoming shaky, the institute said.

“He (Erdoğan) can either stick to the narrative leaked by Turkish officials who say that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate and risk a major crisis with Riyadh, or he can pursue a less aggressive approach, as he has done in the past, in order to avoid putting relations with Riyadh under further strain,” it said.

Erdoğan is embroiled in disputes with the United States over Syria, as well as Turkey’s internment of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, which prompted Trump to impose sanctions on Ankara in August. Erdoğan’s relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin have also strained over the future of opposition forces in Syria’s Idlib province.

The Khashoggi incident also comes at a time when Erdoğan is trying to rescue Turkey from a possible financial crisis after the lira slumped almost 40 percent against the dollar this year.