U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday, looking for answers to what happened to a missing Saudi journalist last seen two weeks ago entering Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul.
The top U.S. diplomat, dispatched to Saudi Arabia by President Donald Trump, met first with the monarch, then the heir to the throne. Pompeo was set then to meet a second time with the crown prince over dinner.
There were no immediate disclosures about the fate of the missing journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, although U.S. news reports said Saudi Arabia was edging toward acknowledging that he was killed after he entered the consulate October 2, blaming his death on an interrogation gone wrong. Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince in columns written for The Washington Post, had been living in the U.S. in self-imposed exile.
As they sat down for their first meeting, the crown prince, in English, told Pompeo, 'We are strong and old allies. We face our challenges together - the past, the day of, tomorrow.'
'Absolutely,' Pompeo replied.
Human rights activists hold pictures of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 9, 2018.
The U.S. State Department said Pompeo also met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, continuing their conversations from the recent United Nations General Assembly about a range of Middle East issues and U.S.-Saudi concerns.
Pompeo's visit to Riyadh came hours after Turkish crime scene investigators finished an inspection of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The U.S.-based cable television network CNN and the New York Times reported Saudi Arabia was preparing to admit Khashoggi was killed at the consulate.
Up until this point, Saudi officials have strongly denied accusations by Turkish officials that Khashoggi was murdered, saying instead he left the diplomatic outpost on his own. Neither side has publicly shown clear evidence to back up its claim, and the two governments agreed on a joint working group to probe Khashoggi's disappearance.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 16, 2018.
After talks with King Salman, the State Department said Pompeo 'thanked the king for his commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation of Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance.'
Trump said Monday he was dispatching Pompeo to Riyadh 'to find out really, firsthand, what happened.'
'He may go to Turkey, he may not. He may meet with all of them together,' Trump said. 'But we want to find out what happened. And he's got instructions to find out what happened.'
Trump said King Salman told him in a telephone call Monday that he had no knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.
'His denials to me could not have been stronger,' Trump said at the White House. 'Maybe I do not want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers - I mean, who knows?'
David Mack, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a former ambassador, told VOA that what Saudi Arabia is accused of would be hard to get away with in the United States, but is possible for Saudi Arabia given its tight controls on the media and discipline instituted by the royal family.
This image taken from CCTV video obtained by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and made available on Oct. 9, 2018 claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Oct. 2, 2018.
'I suppose possible that Saudi Arabia will be able to sell this, however, I think most people would be very dubious that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had not had some hand in the matter or knowledge that it was taking place,' Mack said.
Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get documents he needed to marry his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national who waited in vain outside for Khashoggi to return.
Trump told the CBS news show 60 Minutes on Sunday that Saudi Arabia would face 'severe punishment' if it is determined Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate, but Riyadh dismissed the U.S. threat and said it would retaliate if Trump took any action against Saudi Arabia.
In protest of Khashoggi's disappearance, several U.S. businesses leaders have pulled out of next week's Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, dubbed 'Davos in the Desert,' after the annual meeting of world economic interests in Switzerland.
VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this report.