The US State Department said today (Nov. 20) that it rejects a report that secretary of state Mike Pompeo gave the Saudi royal family a cover-up plan to divert attention from crown prince Mohammed bin Salman as journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder was investigated.
The widely circulated report was published late on Nov. 19 in the Middle East Eye, an English-language newspaper based in London. It alleges Pompeo presented a multi-step plan to the royal family during his visit to Riyadh on Oct. 16, which gave the appearance of transparency and ultimately “includes an option to pin the Saudi journalist’s murder on an innocent member of the ruling al-Saud family.” Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul on Oct. 2, and was killed inside, Turkish and Saudi officials say.
The crown prince gave the order for Khashoggi to be murdered, senior officials at the US Central Intelligence Agency told multiple news outlets this week. Their conclusion contradicts the official Saudi explanation, the US Treasury Department, and Donald Trump, who have said that the crown prince is not responsible.
The Middle East Eye report is “false and a complete misrepresentation” of Pompeo’s mission to Saudi Arabia, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in an emailed statement:
This reporting is false and a complete misrepresentation of the Secretary’s diplomatic mission to Saudi Arabia. We’ve spoken publicly about our goals: to impress upon Saudi leadership the seriousness to which the United States government attaches to a prompt and complete accounting of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
The Middle East Eye report, attributed to an unnamed Saudi source, claims Pompeo’s declaration on Oct. 18 that Saudi Arabia would be given “a few more days” to complete its investigation was specifically intended to give the royal family more time to put his plan in place. Since then, the Saudi leadership have “done everything” Pompeo wanted them to do, the paper claims.
Since Pompeo’s visit to Riyadh, the Saudis have allowed Turkish investigators into their Istanbul consulate, offered to coordinate a joint Saudi-Turkish investigation, sent a team to Istanbul to pursue the probe and arrested at least 21 suspects. The remaining step—pinning the crime on a member of the royal family—may be taken if the arrests of those Saudi suspects don’t work to ease the pressure on Riyadh, the source said.
Pompeo’s visit to Riyadh, where he appeared smiling next to the crown prince just days after Khashoggi was killed, was criticized in the US and overseas.
The Middle East Eye is reported to have links to Qatari backers. Qatar is in the midst of a bitter conflict with its Middle East neighbors over resources, alleged sponsorship of extremist movements, and Qatar’s founding of news outlet Al Jazeera, which has been critical of other Middle East governments.