U.S. President Donald Trump listens while meeting small business owners in the White House (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Says He'll Contact Saudis Over Journalist’s Disappearance

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he plans to contact Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and prominent critic of his country’s royal family, who was last seen entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Trump, speaking Tuesday in the Oval Office , said he hasn’t spoken with Saudi counterparts about the matter yet but “will be” contacting them. The president said he knows “nothing” about what happened to Khashoggi other than what he’s seen in news reports.

Trump on Monday said he was “very concerned about it." He added that “there’s some pretty bad stories going around -- I do not like it.”

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Monday called for Saudi Arabia to support an investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“We have seen conflicting reports on the safety and whereabouts” of the missing man, Pompeo said in a statement on Monday. "As the president has conveyed, the United States is concerned by his disappearance."

"We call on the government of Saudi Arabia to support a thorough investigation of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and to be transparent about the results of that investigation," Pompeo said.

A Turkish official, speaking anonymously and without providing evidence, said Khashoggi had been murdered inside the consulate, a claim the Saudi government has vehemently denied.

“If true, this is a tragic day,” Vice President Mike Pence tweeted late Monday. “Violence against journalists across the globe is a threat to freedom of the press & human rights. The free world deserves answers.”

Trump has sought to cultivate even closer relations with Saudi Arabia, long a key ally in the Middle East. The U.S. president has largely resisted criticizing the Saudi royal family, although he has said in recent months that Saudi Arabia should produce more oil to lower international prices and should contribute more resources to help stabilize Syria.

Several U.S. lawmakers warned that Saudi Arabia could face economic consequences if the kingdom killed the journalist, who has also been a contributor to the Washington Post.

‘Heavy Price’

House Speaker Paul Ryan said there needs to be “transparency and accountability” on Khashoggi’s fate, and called reports of his death “very disturbing and very unnerving.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it’s “imperative” that the Saudi government give clear answers about what happened to Khashoggi.

“If there was any truth to the allegations of wrongdoing by the Saudi government it would be devastating to the US-Saudi relationship and there will be a heavy price to be paid -- economically and otherwise,” Graham wrote on Twitter. “Our country’s values should be and must be a cornerstone of our foreign policy with foes and allies alike.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said the U.S. should “respond strongly” if reports of Khashoggi’s death are confirmed.

Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee who’s chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he’d raised the issue with the Saudi ambassador. “While we await more information, know we will respond accordingly to any state that targets journalists abroad,” Corker said on Twitter.

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, said on Twitter: “If true, the international community must stand together and enforce consequences.” He said Pompeo “must speak out forcefully against the silencing of Arab activists, dissidents and journalists.”

Khashoggi, who had been living in self-imposed exile for the past year, vanished on Oct. 2, after he entered the consulate to obtain a document. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he was personally involved in the case, which threatens ties between Ankara and Riyadh.

Crown Prince Responds

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman told Bloomberg News in an interview last week that Khashoggi had left the consulate shortly after entering it last week and that he was ready to let Turkey search the building.

If evidence implicates the Saudi government in Khashoggi’s disappearance or death, it would indicate a new level of violence that authorities are willing to undertake to silence criticism of the crown prince, whose jailing of opponents at home has undercut his efforts to fashion himself as a modernizer of his conservative kingdom.

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