RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed on Wednesday that the killers of Jamal Khashoggi would be brought to justice, in his first public comments since the journalist’s murder sparked global condemnation.
Striking a defiant tone, Prince Mohammed told international investors at a major conference in Riyadh that the furore over Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul would not derail the kingdom’s reform drive.
His comments came hours after U.S. President Donald Trump was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying that as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, the crown prince bore ultimate responsibility for the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death.
“We will prove to the world that the two governments (Saudi and Turkish) are cooperating to punish any criminal, any culprit and at the end, justice will prevail,” Prince Mohammed said to applause.
The world’s top oil exporter has come under increasing pressure over the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist and one of the crown prince’s most prominent critics.
The crisis has strained Riyadh’s ties with the West and led dozens of Western politicians, top world bankers and company executives to boycott the conference that opened in Riyadh on Tuesday.
French President Emmanuel Macron told King Salman in a phone call on Wednesday that Paris, in coordination with partners, could take action against those held responsible for the murder, the Elysee palace said.
However, French reaction has been relatively guarded, as Paris tries to retain its influence with Riyadh and protect commercial relations spanning energy, finance and arms sales. From 2008 to 2017, Saudi Arabia was the second biggest purchaser of French arms, with deals totalling 11 billion euros ($12.7 billion), including 1.5 billion euros last year alone.
Saudi Arabia first denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance but a Saudi official eventually attributed his death on Oct 2 to a botched attempt to return him to the kingdom. Turkey has dismissed Saudi efforts to blame rogue operatives and urged the kingdom to search “top to bottom” for those responsible.
CIA Director Gina Haspel, who departed for a trip to Turkey on Monday, listened to an audio recording of Khashoggi’s interrogation and killing, people familiar with her meetings there told the Washington Post. Spokespersons for the CIA and Turkish intelligence declined to comment on Haspel’s review of the recording.
Britain, also a major weapons supplier to the kingdom, described Riyadh’s explanations as lacking credibility. Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday that Britain would prevent all suspects in the killing from entering the country, shortly before she spoke to King Salman.
The Trump administration and the US defense industry are scrambling to save the few actual deals in a much-touted $110 billion arms package for Saudi Arabia.