Washington, DC – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the US will continue to work to identify those responsible for the murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi and “hold them accountable”.
Pompeo was confronted by Congressman Gerry Connolly about Khashoggi’s murder during a congressional hearing. Connelly is a Virginia Democrat in whose district Khashoggi resided.
Khashoggi was killed on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. After offering several contradictory statements, the Saudi kingdom confirmed Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate, but denied the killing was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite reports that the CIA concluded that the kingdom’s de facto leader was behind the murder.
“Is there ever a time when we are, as a principle, going to say ‘You know what, we are not going to do business as normal and we are going to hold them accountable,'” Connolly demanded.
Pompeo said he was aware of the details of Khashoggi’s murder at the time of his meeting with the crown prince and that he raised US concerns about it with him at the time. The Trump administration has sanctioned 17 Saudis in connection with the killing, he said.
“President Trump has made it very clear. We will continue to work to identify those responsible for Mr Khashoggi’s murder and hold them accountable. I stand by that today,” Pompeo said, adding under questioning that would apply to “anyone” no matter how high up in the Saudi government.
Pompeo was appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to present the Trump administration’s budget which calls for a 23 percent reduction in 2020 funding for the State Department.
On Wednesday, Pompeo also appeared before the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee which provides funding for US international aid including $3.3bn for Israel. The secretary of state recently returned from a trip to Kuwait, Lebanon and Israel.
During that hearing, Pompeo declined to answer questions about the Trump administration’s efforts to develop a peace proposal for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Given the demographics of the West Bank and Gaza, and given Israel’s long-standing Democratic principles, wouldn’t you agree that a two-state solution is the best way for most people, for both people to co-exist peacefully and with dignity?” Congresswoman Nita Lowey, chair of the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, asked Pompeo.
“You will permit me to demur again,” Pompeo said. “You will see the administration’s vision and then ultimately it will be the decision of the peoples of those two lands about how it is they will come together and what the contours of that will look like.”
US President Donald Trump met Netanyahu at the White House on Monday where the US president recognised Israeli control of the Golan Heights, Syrian territory seized in the 1967 Six Day War. The move prompted condemnation from Arab nations.
Lowey told Pompeo she has “concerns regarding the direction of the policy of this administration”.
Pompeo later told members of Congress that Trump’s decision on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights “was the right thing to do”.
“We believe this increases the likelihood that we get a resolution between Israel and the Palestinians,” Pompeo said.
He added that the move would help the peace process by bringing “clarity” and “certainty” about the US position on a “complex” situation.
Palestinians cut off ties with the US after Trump unilaterally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US embassy to the city. Trump cut off funds for United Nations aid to Gaza and international assistance to the West Bank, and ordered the closure of a Palestinian representative office in Washington, DC.
“The contours of any agreement of have historically focused on borders, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees and mutual recognition. Are these still the parameters around which you believe the two sides would return to the negotiating table?” Lowey asked Pompeo.
“Those are the parameters that were largely at hand in the discussions before and that led to where we are today, no resolution,” Pompeo said.
“We are hoping we can actually broaden the aperture, that we can broaden this debate to reach the goal, founded on the facts on the ground and a realistic assessment of what would get us a good outcome,” he added. “We have some ideas that are new and fresh and different and we hope that those will appeal not only to the Israelis and the Palestinians but to the larger set of threats that have prevented conflict from being resolved over the past few years and decades.”
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, travelled to the Middle East in February to promote the economic portion of the administration’s plan involving investment in the besieged Gaza Strip. Asked when the Trump administration plan would be forthcoming, Pompeo was unable to offer a timeframe.
“I am not trying to evade. I don’t know precisely when and how we will present this. We have been working on it a while. We want to make sure we have as complete and as effective, as good as we know how to do. We get there we will unveil it,” Pompeo said.