After talking to the Saudi crown prince, US President Donald Trump warned against presuming that Riyadh was guilty of killing Jamal Khashoggi. In Istanbul, investigators searched the Saudi consulate for evidence.
US President Donald Trump on Tuesday called for the presumption of innocence to apply to Saudi Arabia amid outrage over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.
Sources in Turkey have said the US-based reporter was killed and dismembered inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago. Trump had previously vowed "severe punishment" for those responsible.
But the president softened his tone on Tuesday, telling the Associated Press that the US needed to "find out what happened first."
"Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent," he said. "I don't like that."
'Full and complete investigation'
Trump also called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir apparent to the Saudi throne.
"Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate," Trump wrote on Twitter.
The 33-year-old prince has already started "a full and complete investigation" into Khashoggi's fate, Trump said, pledging that answers "will be forthcoming shortly."
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met the crown prince in Riyadh on Tuesday evening. "I stressed the importance of them conducting a complete investigation into the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. They made a commitment to do that," he told reporters traveling with him after boarding a plane for Ankara.
"They said it would be a thorough, complete and transparent investigation," he said. "They indicated they understood that getting that done in a timely, rapid fashion so they could begin to answer important questions."
Pompeo, his counterparts in the G7 — Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Canada and Italy — and the EU also said in a joint statement that the people responsible for Khashoggi's disappearance "must be held to account."
Asked if the Saudis had said if Khashoggi was alive or dead, Pompeo said: "They didn't talk about any of the facts."
Saudi officials have repeatedly rejected claims that Khashoggi died inside the consulate, but have not provided any evidence of him leaving the building.
Several media outlets reported this week that Riyadh was preparing to backtrack on that claim and admit that Khashoggi died during a botched interrogation.
On Tuesday, Turkish and Saudi teams conducted a nine-hour search of the diplomatic compound in Istanbul. The investigators were also set to search the Saudi consul's residence, but the move was called off because the Saudi side was not able to join, according to the Turkish police.
Report links suspects with crown prince
A Turkish security source told the Associated Press that the search of the consulate provided "strong evidence" that Khashoggi was killed there, but no conclusive proof. The same source said that the Saudi consul left Turkey and returned to Riyadh on Tuesday. Ankara had not requested for the diplomat to be withdrawn from the country.
The New York Times reported separately that one member of the Saudi team who visited the consulate on the day of Khashoggi's disappearance was a frequent companion of the crown prince. The man, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, can be seen on photographs of Mohammed bin Salman's trips abroad, possibly serving as one of the prince's bodyguards, the newspaper said. Witnesses linked three other men to the prince's security detail, while another man was identified as a forensic doctor from the Saudi interior ministry.
dj/amp (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)