US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday arrived in Riyadh, where he is set to press Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to hold the killers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi accountable.
The top US diplomat, on an extensive Middle East tour, embarked on his second politically sensitive visit to Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s murder inside its Istanbul consulate sparked an international outcry.
“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 in Qatar, before flying to the Saudi capital.
“We’ll… make sure we have all the facts so that they are held accountable, certainly by the Saudis but by the United States as well.”
After landing in Riyadh, 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 Prince Mohammed, whose right-hand aides were allegedly involved in the murder, was exonerated by prosecutors.
On a previous visit to Riyadh at the height of the Khashoggi affair, Pompeo’s broad smiles with the crown prince outraged some Americans.
However, Trump has said Washington wants to preserve the alliance with the oil-rich kingdom, which he sees as a bulwark against common foe Iran and a lucrative buyer of US arms.
Rights groups have called on Pompeo to also press Prince Mohammed over the jailing of women activists in the kingdom, amid claims that some of them faced sexual harassment and torture during interrogation.
“I am struck by what is not included in Pompeo’s itinerary: the brave women activists of Saudi Arabia, who are being held in the kingdom’s prisons for seeking rights and dignity,” Alia al-Hathloul wrote in The New York Times Sunday.
Hathloul’s sister, Loujain, is among more than a dozen activists arrested last May — just before the historic lifting of Saudi Arabia’s decades-long ban on women drivers.