The Trump administration expects Saudi Arabia to hold “every single person” responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi accountable, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday after talks with senior Saudi officials that also focused on Mideast crises and countering threats from Iran.
Pompeo, speaking to reporters at the end of a trip to Riyadh, said he had raised the Khashoggi case in his meetings with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as well as other human rights concerns, and the fate of women’s rights activists who have been detained in the kingdom.
“We spoke about human rights issues here in Saudi Arabia, women activists,” he said. “We spoke about the accountability and the expectations that we have. The Saudis are friends and when friends have conversations you tell them what your expectations are.”
“Our expectations have been clear from early on: every single person who has responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi needs to held accountable,” Pompeo said. He said the Saudis understood and had reiterated pledges to pursue the case wherever it leads. He would not comment on U.S. intelligence suggesting the crown prince may have ordered the killing.
The relationship between Riyadh and Washington remains tense following Khashoggi’s brutal slaying and dismemberment at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October. Members of Prince Mohammed’s entourage have been implicated in the killing and U.S. lawmakers have demanded America pull back its support of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
On the detained women rights activists, Pompeo said the Saudis had committed that the “lawful judicial process would take place and they would do so quickly and that they would continue down that path.”
“They understand the concerns that some have and they are going to do their best to communicate as appropriate,” he said.
Pompeo travelled to Saudi Arabia as part of a broader Middle East tour that has already taken him to Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. He was to depart from the kingdom for Oman shortly after his meetings in Riyadh but cancelled plans to wrap up the trip in Kuwait on Tuesday, due to a death in his family.
At each stop, Pompeo has sought to reassure Arab leaders that President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria does not mean Washington is abandoning the Middle East or the fight against the Islamic State group.
Pompeo said he believed he had been successful in explaining Trump’s position despite a lack of detail on exactly how and when the withdrawal will take place and differences with Turkey over the fate of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters after American forces leave.
He also tried to impress upon leaders the importance of a political solution to the conflict in Yemen, the Arab world’s most impoverished country, and the need to step up efforts to counter Iran’s increasing assertiveness in the region, manifested by its support for Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah movement, Syria’s government of President Bashar Assad, Shiite militias in Iraq and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
In Riyadh, Pompeo lamented that the Houthis were not living up to pledges they made at U.N.-brokered peace talks in Sweden. “We need both sides to honor those commitments and to date the Iranian-backed Houthis have chosen not to do that,” he said.
Pompeo also pressed the Saudis on bringing an end to the near two-year-old dispute with its Gulf neighbor Qatar, which has badly hindered U.S. efforts to create a united Arab military alliance to counter Iran.
“It diminishes our ability to all work together,” he said of the spat that began in June 2017 with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates boycotting of Qatar, alleging it funds extremist groups and has too-cozy ties to Iran.
In Doha on Sunday, Pompeo made similar remarks but said that while the United States could try to play peacemaker, it is ultimately up to the countries involved to resolve the situation.