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Pompeo meets with Khalid bin Salman despite backlash over Khashoggi murder

US State Department does not mention slain journalist in statement describing meeting in Washington
KBS has been accused of launching 'epic campaign of lies' after Khashoggi was killed (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi Arabia's deputy defence minister, Khalid bin Salman, defying calls to shun the young prince for his purported role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Prince Khalid, known as KBS, is the brother of the kingdom's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

He was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US when Khashoggi was murdered at the country's Istanbul consulate in October, and was later accused of telling the Saudi journalist that it was safe to go to the building.

"The secretary congratulated the minister on his new role and looked forward to continuing to work together to advance the US-Saudi partnership," the US State Department said in a statement on Thursday, describing the meeting between Pompeo and KBS in Washington.

From his post in the US capital, Prince Khalid initially denied that Khashoggi may have been detained or harmed inside the consulate on 2 October, calling reports of the murder "absolutely false and baseless".

The Saudi government eventually acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed, but it has continued to deny the involvement of the crown prince, disputing the CIA's conclusion that bin Salman ordered the assassination.

The US Senate also passed a unanimous resolution asserting that the crown prince was responsible for the crime.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who lived in self-imposed exile in the US and was critical of the crown prince, was killed by a Saudi government hit team that included his close associates.

'Zero credibility'

Late last year, the Washington Post reported that Prince Khalid assured Khashoggi he could go to the consulate in Istanbul to retrieve personal documents.

The report prompted calls for the US to expel the prince from the country.

Last December, the Post's editorial board also accused KBS of launching an "epic campaign of lies" after the Khashoggi assassination.

Then-US Senator Bob Corker, who was serving as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee at the time, also said that KBS had "zero credibility" after his role in the cover-up of the murder came to light.

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In February, KBS was appointed deputy defence minister, a promotion that was seen as a way to move him out of Washington, where he had become increasingly unwelcome by US lawmakers.

But top Trump administration officials, including the president himself, have stood by the Saudi leadership, including KBS, in the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder.

In its statement on Thursday, the State Department said Pompeo and Prince Khalid discussed peace talks to end the war in Yemen and a "broad range of bilateral and regional issues".

The department did not mention Khashoggi or human rights in the kingdom.

The meeting is the latest example of the Trump administration standing by Saudi Arabia's rulers.

Despite domestic and international outrage that followed Khashoggi's gruesome murder, Trump has vowed to remain a steadfast supporter of the crown prince, saying strong US-Saudi ties are paramount to the US government's priorities in the region.

Last month, the White House also ignored a deadline to deliver a report to US lawmakers that would identify those responsible for the journalist's killing.