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Secretary Of State To Talk With Saudi King About Disappearance Of Jamal Khashoggi


Today President Trump dispatched his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to Saudi Arabia to talk with King Salman about the disappearance of a prominent Saudi journalist. Journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared nearly two weeks ago after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkey says he was killed by a Saudi hit team. Well, today Turkish and Saudi investigators finally searched the consulate.

NPR's Jackie Northam is here to talk more about all the latest developments. Hi, Jackie.


KELLY: So start with the U.S. stance here. Over the weekend, President Trump was warning Saudi Arabia about severe punishment - his words - if it were discovered that the kingdom had anything to do with the suspected murder of Khashoggi. Today the president was using somewhat different words. What's the latest?

NORTHAM: Well, yes, you're right. Today Trump said that he spoke to King Salman, and he firmly denied any knowledge about what happened to Khashoggi. Trump suggested that it could've been the work of what he called rogue killers. And this would make it easier for the king and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to stick to their denials, this despite the fact that Khashoggi was last seen going into the Saudi consulate. And as you say, the president also dispatched Secretary Pompeo to Riyadh to talk with Saudi leaders and the search of the consulate today. And it may be too soon to conclude this, but these may be the kinds of moves you see when countries are trying to find a way out of this increasingly explosive situation.

KELLY: I want to ask you about something CNN is reporting today. They are reporting Saudi Arabia is preparing to report that Khashoggi was killed during an interrogation that went wrong - in other words, that the Saudis might be willing to admit that he was killed. CNN's citing two unnamed sources. Do we know any more?

NORTHAM: I've heard the report, certainly, but I cannot confirm them at this time.

KELLY: OK. So that's something to keep an eye on. To the question of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the relationship and whether President Trump has opened a door for Saudi to try to wiggle out in some way - I mean, this is very awkward with two countries that are very strong allies.

NORTHAM: Right. You're right. They - it's a very strong relationship between the two countries. They cooperate on things like counterterrorism. And there's a U.S. political element to this as well. Certainly Trump has been leaning on Saudi Arabia to keep gas prices low, particularly ahead of the midterm elections. And there's a multibillion-dollar arms sale on the table as well, which goes back to, you know, creating jobs here in America. So they may look at things like whatever happened was not ordered by Saudi leaders, or perhaps it was an attempt to detain and interrogate Khashoggi that went terribly wrong. But that would contradict the Saudis' claims that the journalists had left the consulate safely.

KELLY: You mention President Trump today said maybe this was the work of rogue killers. I mean, so many people are saying this - all the evidence points to Saudi Arabia having had a chance here. Where is that coming from? What kind of reaction is it getting?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, while the two leaders are talking, the Saudis and the U.S., you know, there's really growing outrage in the U.S. and elsewhere about this. And the story, Mary Louise, has touched a raw nerve. And it's likely there would be revulsion if the truth seems to be obscured somehow. I spoke with Sherif Mansour of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and he said it could stifle any criticism of Saudi leaders in the future.

SHERIF MANSOUR: It would be a chilling message to everyone who covers Saudi Arabia from within or outside the country.

NORTHAM: Similarly, people would worry about a chilling effect on free speech around the world after this incident if no one is held accountable.

KELLY: NPR's Jackie Northam - thanks so much, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
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