The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was sanctioned at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, trying to play kingmaker in Riyadh and bolster his credentials in the West.
“We know that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government,” the Turkish leader wrotein a surprise contribution to Friday’s Washington Post, vowing to “reveal the identities of the puppet masters” behind the murder.
“No one should dare to commit such acts on the soil of a NATO ally again,” Erdogan wrote dramatically. “Had this atrocity taken place in the United States or elsewhere, authorities in those countries would have gotten to the bottom of what happened. It would be out of the question for us to act any other way,” he added, noting that Ankara has already “moved heaven and earth to shed light on all aspects of this case.”
The Turkish leader also used the opportunity to burnish his credentials in the West, saying that as a responsible NATO member, Turkey will not just leave this case uninvestigated and will act in exactly the same way as the US or any of its allies would in its place.
Erdogan openly accused Riyadh of “trying to cover up the murder” by stalling the investigation and refusing to cooperate with the Turkish authorities, singling out the Saudi chief prosecutor Saud Al Mojeb, who visited Turkey earlier this week.
“The refusal of the Saudi public prosecutor… to cooperate with the investigation and answer even simple questions is very frustrating,”he wrote, adding that Al Mojeb’s “invitation for Turkish investigators to Saudi Arabia … felt like a desperate and deliberate stalling tactic.”
The blistering condemnations were quickly followed by conciliatory language, however. Erdogan wrote that he “does not believe for a second that King Salman … ordered the hit” himself. Praising Turkey’s “friendship with Riyadh,” he also said he has “no reason to believe” that Khashoggi’s murder reflected official Saudi policy, and that the incident should not be viewed as a “problem” in bilateral relations.”
What might seem like a contradiction is probably just subtlety on Erdogan’s part, however unusual that may sound. Though the Turkish president did not once mention the name Mohammed bin Salman, the Post made sure to put the Saudi crown prince as the online cover photo for his essay.
Relations between Saudi Arabia on one side and Ankara and its Gulf ally Qatar on the other have soured over the past several years since “MBS” became the crown prince and de-facto steward of Saudi Arabia on behalf of the 82-year-old king.
Khashoggi was an outspoken critic of the crown prince. The self-exiled dissident reporter, who lived in Turkey, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. After weeks of denying his death and any knowledge of his whereabouts, Riyadh admitted that Khashoggi died as a result of an accidental fight. Later, the Saudi prosecutors also said that some evidence suggested that the killing was premeditated.
Ankara has been pressing the Saudis for information about Khashoggi’s body, which remains undiscovered, as well as about the person who might have ordered the hit. Ankara also demanded extradition of all suspects in this case, arguing that the journalist was killed on Turkish territory.