US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faces a tough balancing act on Monday as he presses Saudi Arabia’s crown prince over critic Jamal Khashoggi’s murder while shoring up strategic ties with Riyadh.
The top US diplomat, on an extensive Middle East tour, is set to hold talks with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who faces international opprobrium over the journalist’s murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Pompeo walks a diplomatic tightrope on his second politically sensitive visit to Saudi Arabia since the killing, amid pressure from American lawmakers for a tough response.
“We will continue to have a conversation with the crown prince and the Saudis about ensuring the accountability is full and complete with respect to the unacceptable murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Pompeo told reporters ahead of his arrival in the Saudi capital.
After landing in Riyadh on Sunday evening, Pompeo pushed for Saudi Arabia to continue its investigation into the murder, in talks with Adel al-Jubeir, minister of state for foreign affairs, and the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor, was murdered on October 2 in what Saudi Arabia called a “rogue” operation, tipping the kingdom into one of its worst diplomatic crises and subsequently straining ties between Riyadh and Washington.
Pompeo’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he will be hosted by Prince Mohammed, is part of an extensive eight-day trip to Amman, Cairo, Manama, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh, Muscat, and finally Kuwait City.
US President Donald Trump has brushed aside international outrage to stand by Prince Mohammed over the murder of Khashoggi, whose corpse was dismembered at the consulate.
His support has come despite the US Central Intelligence Agency’s reported conclusion that Prince Mohammed very likely ordered the murder. A bipartisan resolution approved by the US Senate last month also held the crown prince responsible for the killing.
Riyadh prosecutors have announced indictments against 11 people and are seeking the death penalty against five of them. But they have exonerated Prince Mohammed, whose right-hand aides were allegedly involved in the murder.
Khashoggi’s murder has cast a renewed spotlight on the Saudi military campaign in Yemen, gripped by what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, but it was not clear whether the subject would be discussed during Monday’s meeting.