Oct 12, 2018

Khashoggi intrigue: A text from the Saudi ambassador, then silence

Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

On Monday afternoon, I received an unsolicited note on the encrypted messaging service, WhatsApp, from the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman. He is the younger brother of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), and we occasionally communicate on WhatsApp — his messaging channel of choice.

In the message, posted below in full, the ambassador denied allegations that the Saudi government was involved in the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who unnamed Turkish officials allege was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul: "I assure you that the reports that suggest that Jamal Khashoggi went missing in the Consulate in Istanbul or that the Kingdom’s authorities have detained him or killed him are absolutely false, and baseless," he said. 

  • I responded with two messages: “Thank you” and “Do you have footage of him leaving the consulate?” I’m still waiting for a reply.

Why this matters: A Washington Post columnist, who is a Saudi citizen and U.S. resident, has gone missing and is alleged to have been murdered by the Saudis. The Trump administration — led by Jared Kushner — has been burnishing the Saudis and MBS’ image as a visionary-reformer as a key to unlocking peace in the Middle East.

The bottom line: The administration has so far said very little about this incident, but the international pressure has reached a fever pitch. Meanwhile, the Saudis haven’t provided any convincing answers to the charges.

His note on Monday, in full:

"I hope all is well. 

I am sure you are following the news stories about Jamal Khashoggi. There are many facts regarding his whereabouts that will hopefully be revealed through the ongoing investigation. Despite that, we have seen over the last few days various malicious leaks and grim rumors flying around about Jamal's whereabouts and fate.

I would normally prefer not to address such outrageous claims, especially when it concerns the wellbeing of a missing citizen who dedicated a great portion of his life to serve his country. It goes without saying that his family in the Kingdom remain gravely concerned about him, and so are we.  Jamal has many friends in the Kingdom, including myself, and despite our differences, and his choice to go into his so called "self-exile," we still maintained regular contact when he was in Washington. 

I know many in Washington, and the world over share this concern for his wellbeing.  I assure you that the reports that suggest that Jamal Khashoggi went missing in the Consulate in Istanbul or that the Kingdom’s authorities have detained him or killed him are absolutely false, and baseless.  The first reports out of Turkey were that he exited the Consulate and then disappeared. Shortly after the relevant authorities in the Kingdom became engaged in his case, the accusations changed to him being held inside the Consulate.  After Turkish authorities and the media were allowed to inspect the Consulate building in its entirety, the accusations changed to the outrageous claim that he was murdered, in the Consulate, during business hours, and with dozens of staff and visitors in the building. I don't know who is behind these claims, or their intentions, nor do I care frankly. 

What we do care about is Jamal's wellbeing, and revealing the truth about what occurred. Jamal is a Saudi citizen who went missing after leaving the Consulate.  This was not his first visit to the Consulate in Istanbul, as he regularly came to the Consulate (as well as the Embassy in Washington) in the last few months for citizen services.  The Saudi Consulate is fully cooperating with the local authorities to uncover what happened after he left.
In addition, the Kingdom has sent a security team, with the Turkish government's approval,  to work with their Turkish counterparts on the investigation.  Our aim is to chase every lead to uncover the truth behind his disappearance.

Though the situation is extraordinary, these measures are not. Jamal is a Saudi citizen whose safety and security is a top priority for the Kingdom, just as is the case with any other citizen. We will not spare any effort to locate him, just as we would if it were any other Saudi citizen."

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