US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will call for GCC unity and emphasize the need for accountability and credibility in the investigation of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a trip to the Middle East next week, US officials said on Friday.
The trip, scheduled for January 8-15, will take place less than a month after President Donald Trump’s surprise decision to pull US troops out of Syria.
The trip will include stops in eight countries, including Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where Pompeo will discuss the “importance of a united Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in standing against” Iran, according to a State Department statement.
The visit will come against the backdrop of the ongoing blockade on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. In imposing the blockade in June 2017, the quartet accused Doha of supporting “terrorism”, an allegation Qatar vehemently denies.
Khashoggi murder probe
While in Riyadh, Pompeo is scheduled to meet Saudi leaders to discuss Yemen, Iran and Syria. The State Department said in a statement that the top diplomat will also “seek an update on the status of the investigation into the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi”.
An official, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity on Friday, said Pompeo will raise the case with Saudi leaders and “continue to push for accountability and credibility from the Saudi leadership as they move through the legal process that began earlier this week”.
The official added that “from our point of view, that the narrative emerging from the Saudis throughout the legal process has yet to hit that threshold of credibility and accountability.”
Khashoggi was killed on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage.
After initially offering several contradictory statements, Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia said the 11 suspected killers of Khashoggi attended their first hearing in Riyadh.
The prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five of the suspects, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
The United Nations said on Thursday that it could not assess the fairness of the trial. It also called for an independent investigation “with international involvement”.
Pompeo’s trip comes less than a month after the US Senate approved two resolutions that took aim at Saudi Arabia.
The first called for an end to the US involvement in the Saudi-UAE-led military campaign in Yemen, while the second said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. Politicians have vowed to take up the legislation again this year.
Pompeo’s trip to the Middle East will be his first since Trump abruptly announced that he intends to withdraw the 2,000 US troops from Syria.
The Syria decision, which led to the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the US special envoy in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), Brett McGurk, is expected to dominate Pompeo’s agenda.
An official, briefing reporters on the trip, said there is no timetable for the withdrawal. Trump had initially called for a rapid pull-out, but has since walked back on that order, saying it will take place “over a period of time”.
National Security Adviser John Bolton, who will also be visiting the Middle East, will focus on Syria and “how the US will work with allies and partners to prevent the resurgence of ISIS, stand fast with those who fought with us against ISIS, and counter Iranian malign behaviour in the region,” according to National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis.
Bolton is scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before being joined in Turkey by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford. They are expected to pressure Turkish officials not to launch an offensive targeting Kurdish fights in Syria.
Turkey considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) a terrorist group linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged attacks on Turkish soil since the 1980s.
Pompeo told Newsmax on Thursday that “ensuring that the Turks don’t slaughter the Kurds” was part “of the American mission set,” a comment that Turkey said showed a lack of information about the situation.