Distrust and suspicion are the predominant sentiments in investigations into the killing of former Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.
The current stand-off between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where investigations inch forwards, has turned into a game in which everyone holds his cards close to his chest waiting for others to show their hand.
Or it could be like a chess game in which each player is waiting for the other’s move to decide his next step accordingly.
There is a lot at stake in the way these games continue, not least for the future power balance in the Middle East, and the Turkish investigators have refused to share with Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor all the evidence they have collected regarding the killing of Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia has admitted that a premeditated plan was made to kill Khashoggi, but says it was set up by a group of rogue operators without the knowledge of the Saudi leadership.
Turkey’s state broadcaster said that Saudi officials had asked for the whole investigations dossier, including evidence, statements, and footage, to be given to them. However, the Saudi request has been denied.
On Monday, Saudi attorney general Saud al-Mo’jeb held talks with his Turkish opposite number Irfan Fidan, but the lack of trust between the two countries was clear for all to see and it led to a relatively brief meeting of 75 minutes.
Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called on Riyadh to conclude the investigations as soon as possible. “The whole truth must be revealed,” he said. “We believe the visit is important for the truth to come out.”
Turkey wants confirmation on the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains, the identity of the local operator that the Saudis claim disposed of the body, and an update on the progress of a Saudi investigation into the 15 Saudi operatives who visited the Istanbul consulate at the time of the killing on 2 October.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey continue to feud over whether 18 suspects in Khashoggi’s death will be handed over to Ankara.
The Turkish prosecutors have prepared an extradition request for the 18 suspects, and the request has been relayed to Saudi Arabia via Turkey’s justice ministry.
However, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir has said that those behind the killing will be prosecuted in the Kingdom and that this will take time.
In an attempt to increase the pressure, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that the Turkish lawyer looking into the killing of Khashoggi had asked Saudi Arabia to disclose who ordered the operation and who sent the team involved in the killing.
“Our prosecutor asked who sent the group that came here and said that this needed to be looked at,” Erdogan said. “Saudi officials need to reveal the identity of the local operators. Let us know who these people are and we will find them. We cannot leave this issue unsolved. We need to solve it now,” Erdogan said.
Saudi Arabia’s shifting explanations, changing versions of what happened to Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate, and the slow progress of the investigations have called into question the West›s close relationship with Saudi Arabia.
“What this crisis has done so far is show the cracks in the relationship with Saudi Arabia,” a British source told the Weekly.
“We will wait for the Saudi and Turkish investigations, but we are already preparing for a package of European responses based on the outcome of the investigations and their transparency and credibility,” he added.
There is British, French and German cooperation to press Riyadh not only on the Khashoggi case, but also on other issues, the most urgent being the war in Yemen.
Germany, which has pledged to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia over the killing of Khashoggi and the war in Yemen, said it expects the European Union to adopt a common position on limiting weapons sales.
“We agreed that when we have more clarity... we will try to find a unified European solution or reaction from all member states of the European Union,” German chancellor Angela Merkel said on the sale of arms to the Kingdom.
She was speaking at a joint news conference with French president Emmanuel Macron, Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the conclusion of a four-country summit on Syria.
Macron said that any decisions, including on potential sanctions, would need to be made at the European level. Macron has said that he told Saudi crown-prince Mohamed Bin Sultan that France and its partners could take action against those responsible for the murder.
France, along with the United States and Britain, is one of the main arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies.
On Monday, a memorial in London was organised in Westminster by the non-profit organisation Middle East Monitor. MP Crispin Blunt, who sits on the UK parliamentary group on Saudi Arabia, told those gathered at the memorial that “Jamal’s death is a very profound moment.”
“If the Saudi state does not deliver full accountability for his murder, the legacy will be one of terror.”
He emphasised that Saudi Arabia must “do penance for this appalling crime,” notably “to ensure the substantial British interests engaged with Saudi Arabia are not toxified entirely by association with a slide into terror.”
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, who was at the memorial, called upon US president Donald Trump not to the “pave the way for a cover-up” and urged him to “help reveal the truth” about the killing.
“I am deeply grateful for the solidarity of people all over the world. I am, however, disappointed in the actions of the leadership of many countries, particularly the US. President Trump should help reveal the truth and ensure that justice is served. He should not pave the way for a cover-up of my fiancé’s murder. Let’s not let money taint our conscience and compromise our values,” she added.
Cengiz said she believes the Saudi regime knows where her late fiance’s body is located. She said she wanted to know the role of the “political leadership in this brutal killing [and for this] to be brought to light.”
Her remarks came days after she rejected an invitation to the White House in Washington. Trump has said little about Saudi Arabia’s role in the killing of Khashoggi, since being briefed last week by CIA director Gina Haspel.
Asked on Monday what action the US has taken almost four weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that “the administration is considering what action we’ll take moving forward” after Haspel had gathered more intelligence and briefed the president.
“The administration is weighing different options and we’ll make an announcement about what the decision of that action is,” Sanders said.
Turkey has kept up the pressure on the Saudis, demanding a full explanation and releasing a steady flow of evidence which has undermined Riyadh’s early denials.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Khashoggi investigations inch forward