Mike Pompeo landed in Riyadh Tuesday for crisis talks over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi amid reports Saudi authorities were preparing to admit that they killed him.
The U.S. secretary of state arrived the day after Turkish investigators were finally given access to the Saudi embassy in Istanbul where the dissident was allegedly killed and then dismembered with a bone saw earlier this month.
Pompeo was greeted at the airport by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, but neither spoke to the media.
King Salman met with Pompeo at the royal court, but despite flying over 6,700 miles to discuss the suspected killing, CNN reported that Pompeo’s talk with the ruler lasted just 15 minutes.
On Monday, a Turkish forensics team entered the consulate with technicians in overalls, gloves and covered shoes, treating the diplomatic mission as a crime scene. There’s been no word yet from Turkish authorities about what the team uncovered, but hours before investigators arrived, photographs emerged of a cleaning crew entering the consulate carrying products that included mops, bin liners and what looked like cleaning solution.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed Tuesday that investigators believe the Saudis had painted over some evidence inside the consulate.
“My hope is that we can reach conclusions that will give us a reasonable opinion as soon as possible, because the investigation is looking into many things such as toxic materials and those materials being removed by painting them over,” Erdogan told reporters in Ankara.
Two officials in contact with investigators told the Washington Post that Turkish authorities “smelled chemicals had been used” when they entered the building.
Turkish officials have claimed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered an assassination squad of 15 men to travel to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the regime.
The Saudis have called the allegations “baseless,” but multiple reports late Monday suggest Riyadh is about to admit culpability.
The New York Times reported that the regime is preparing to say that a friend of the crown prince, an official within the kingdom’s intelligence services, carried out the killing but not on the orders of the royal family.
First reported by CNN, and confirmed by The Wall Street Journal, CBS and NBC, the Saudi version of events would admit that Khashoggi died within the consulate during an interrogation that went wrong. The admission would say Prince Mohammed had approved the journalist’s interrogation or rendition back to Saudi Arabia but not his murder, which would be framed as a tragic accident.
When asked about the reports Monday night, President Donald Trump — who earlier in the day had floated the theory that “rogue killers” were responsible — said: “I just don't know. I'm going to have to see what they say. Nobody knows if it's an official report. So far it's just the rumor of a report coming out.”
Khashoggi’s children said Tuesday they were “traumatized” by his disappearance and they called for an independent investigation to be conducted.
“The strong moral and legal responsibility which our father instilled in us obliges us to call for the establishment of an independent and impartial international commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death,” a statement said.
Cover image: Saudi Arabia's King Salman meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Riyadh on October 16, 2018. (LEAH MILLIS/AFP/Getty Images)