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Pompeo to ask Mohammed bin Salman to hold Khashoggi killers 'accountable'

Ahead of Riyadh visit, US secretary of state says he will ask crown prince, who CIA says ordered murder of journalist, to hold killers accountable
In November, MEE reported that Saudi Arabia's king and MBS were shielding themselves from the Khashoggi murder scandal by using a roadmap drawn up by Pompeo (AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that he will ask Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA has concluded was behind the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, to ensure the murderers of the journalist are held "accountable".

"We will continue to have a conversation with the crown prince and the Saudis about ensuring accountability," Pompeo said in Doha after talks with Qatari government officials.

The secretary of state's comments come ahead of a planned visit to the kingdom later on Sunday as part of a Middle East tour.

Khashoggi, a contributor to Middle East Eye and the Washington Post, was murdered by a team of 15 Saudi hitmen on 2 October, shortly after entering the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

Riyadh has described the assassination as a "rogue operation," though the CIA has concluded that bin Salman almost certainly signed off on the mission.

The 33-year-old heir to the Saudi throne has denied any knowledge of the murder or its botched cover-up.

Pompeo roadmap

In November, Middle East Eye reported that Saudi Arabia's king and the crown prince were shielding themselves from the Khashoggi murder scandal using a roadmap drawn up by Pompeo.

Pompeo delivered the plan in person in October during a meeting in Riyadh with Saudi King Salman and bin Salman, a senior Saudi source who was familiar with Pompeo's talks with the Saudi leaders told MEE.

Saudi officials have said, without providing proof, that the 15-man team sent from the kingdom was put together by the deputy head of the General Intelligence Directorate, Ahmed al-Asiri, whom the king fired along with royal adviser Saud al-Qahtani.

Earlier this month, the trial of 11 Saudis suspected of involvement in Khashoggi's murder opened, with the kingdom's public prosecutor saying that the death penalty has been recommended for five of them.

In a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency on 3 January, the prosecutor said the 11 suspects faced their first hearing in Riyadh’s criminal court, attended by their defence attorneys.

None of the suspects have been named.

Gulf rift

Pompeo also said on Sunday that a rift between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours had gone on for too long.

"We are all more powerful when we are working together and disputes are limited," he said at a news conference in the Qatari capital.

"When we have a common challenge, disputes between countries with shared objectives are never helpful."

Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a diplomatic and trade boycott of Qatar in the summer of 2017, accusing the Gulf state of supporting terrorism, an allegation which Doha denies.