The EU has told Saudi Arabia to "shed full clarity" on what it openly calls the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Still wavering is US President Donald Trump, whose ally Riyadh denies orders came from the top.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini publicly told Saudi Arabia late Saturday that it still needed to "shed full clarity" on the "horrendous crime" despite blame being placed on five suspects by Saudi prosecutors.
Flying to wildfire-traumatized California on Saturday, Trump said via the State Department that reports that his government had reached a final conclusion were "inaccurate."
Trump himself told reporters in Malibu he would be briefed "probably on Monday or Tuesday," adding that Saudi Arabia was a "truly spectacular ally."
"I'm president — I have to take a lot of things into consideration," Trump said.
Ordered from the top?
On Friday, The Washington Post said the CIA had concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the assassination — a claim previously denied by Saudi deputy public prosecutor Shalaan al-Shalaan.
Fifteen Saudi agents flew to Istanbul in a government aircraft, the Post claimed.
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Shalaan on Thursday said Prince Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, knew nothing of the operation.
The Associated Press — covering Trump's California trip — also reported that American intelligence agencies "had concluded that the Crown Prince ordered the killing." AP cited an "official not authorized to discuss the matter publicly."
Republican Senator and Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker tweeted Saturday: "Everything points to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, MbS, ordering @washingtonpost journalist Jamal #Khashoggi's killing."
Khashoggi, a US-based Post columnist and critic of the Saudi government, was killed while visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2. His body was dismembered and removed.
Death penalty untenable, says EU
Mogherini, whose declaration was backed by the EU's 28 foreign ministers, including Germany's Heiko Maas, also condemned Shalaan's call Thursday that the five suspects be sentenced to death.
"It is the longstanding position of the European Union to oppose the death penalty in all cases and under all circumstances," Mogherini declared, adding that judicial "due process" was important, also for Khashoggi's family.
Seeking 'all relevant facts'
As Trump flew to California, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Washington would "continue to seek all relevant facts."
"Recent reports indicating that the US government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate," Nauert said, adding that numerous questions remained "unanswered."
Despite a recent US Treasury Department imposition of sanctions on 17 suspected Saudi officials, Trump has resisted calls to sever arms sales to the kingdom while describing its handling of the Khashoggi case as "one of the worst cover-ups."
Affront to press freedoms, says Pence
Visiting a Pacific regional conference in Papua New Guinea on Saturday, US Vice President Mike Pence said Washington would "follow the facts" while trying to preserve a "strong and historic partnership" with Saudi Arabia.
Pence also described what he termed the murder as an "affront to a free and independent press."
Saudi Arabia's official narrative on the October 2 killing has oscillated: it first denied any knowledge of Khashoggi's whereabouts and later said he was killed when an argument with Saudi officials degenerated into a fistfight.
ipj/bw (Reuters, AP, AFP