A top Turkish official accused Donald Trump Friday of “turning a blind eye” to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, after the president sided with Saudi Arabia over his own intelligence community.
The criticism from Ankara was prompted by Trump’s comments Thursday, the president telling reporters he took the word of King Salman and his son Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), who “vehemently” denied any involvement in the torture and killing of the dissident journalist.
“I hate the crime, I hate the cover-up. I will tell you this: The crown prince hates it more than I do, and they have vehemently denied it,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort where he spent Thanksgiving.
"But whether he did or whether he didn't, he denies it vehemently. His father denies it, the king, vehemently.”
Addressing reports that the CIA concluded MBS orchestrated the assassination, Trump dismissed the analysis as nothing more than “feelings.”
"They have feelings certain ways,” he said. “I have the report, they have not concluded, I don't know if anyone's going to be able to conclude the crown prince did it." Asked who should be held accountable for the murder, Trump said the blame lies with the “vicious world.”
Turkish officials say Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 by an assassination squad sent from Riyadh.
The Saudi government admits the murder, but claims it was a “rogue operation” that went wrong — and not a plot by the Saudi leadership.
Trump’s steadfast support of the Saudi regime in order to safeguard arms sales was strongly criticized by Turkey.
“This statement that Trump made also means: ‘No matter what happens, I will turn a blind eye.’ This is not a correct approach. Not everything is money,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told CNN Turk.
Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported Thursday that CIA director Gina Haspel had informed Turkish officials last month that the agency had a recording of MBS giving instructions to “silence” the Saudi writer as soon as possible.
Cavusoglu denied that Turkish authorities had been informed about the recording.
When asked about the audio Thursday, Trump said: “I don't want to talk about it. You'll have to ask them.”
Despite the pressure on the ruling royal family, MBS Thursday embarked on a tour of the Middle East, starting with the United Arab Emirates.
The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, tweeted his support for the Crown Prince, saying the UAE “will always be a loving and supportive home for our brothers in Saudi Arabia.”
However, the Khashoggi affair could come to a head next week when Trump, MBS and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the G20 summit in Argentina.
Cavusoglu said there is no reason a meeting between Erdogan and MBS could not take place.
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump takes questions from the media after speaking via teleconference with troops from Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer