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Saudi crown prince gets warm welcome in UAE amid pressure over Khashoggi murder

Mohammed bin Salman will visit 'brotherly Arab countries' on his first trip abroad since Jamal Khashoggi's killing
MBS was welcomed by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, on Thursday (AFP)

Mohammed bin Salman has arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of his first trip abroad since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The powerful Saudi crown prince left the Gulf kingdom on Thursday to start "a tour of a number of brotherly Arab countries," the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

Bin Salman, also known as MBS, was welcomed by his close ally, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed.

"We’re proud of our deep-rooted ties. Close cooperation and a fruitful partnership lies in store for our countries. The UAE will always be a loving and supportive home for our brothers in Saudi Arabia," bin Zayed said on Twitter on Thursday.

The two leaders discussed "regional and international" developments and the "challenges and threats facing the Middle East region," the AFP news agency reported, citing the UAE's state-run news outlet, WAM.

MBS is also expected to visit Egypt and Bahrain on his tour abroad, a German news agency reported earlier this week, while AFP said he will be in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, on Tuesday.

The Saudi crown prince will then participate in a G20 meeting in Buenos Aires at the end of the month that will be attended by leaders from the United States, Turkey and European countries, AFP reported.

MBS-Erdogan meeting at G20 possible

The crown prince's foreign tour comes amid ongoing pressure over the killing of Khashoggi, a Saudi government critic who was murdered inside the country's Istanbul consulate on 2 October.

Saudi officials maintain that the crown prince had no knowledge of Khashoggi's murder or its subsequent cover-up. However, the CIA said last Friday that it believes bin Salman ordered the journalist's killing.

World leaders should not be gripping and grinning with tyrants who order the dismemberment of writers

- Karen Attiah, Khashoggi's Washington Post editor

There were conflicting reports as to whether MBS could have his first face-to-face meeting with Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

Pressure has been growing between Riyadh and Ankara over Khashoggi's murder, as Turkish officials have gradually leaked information in relation to the case.

"There could be" a meeting, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said. "We're looking at the programme," Kalin said, according to state news agency Anadolu.

However, Turkish broadcaster A Haber reported Erdogan as having said he would not meet MBS, while the Reuters news agency quoted Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying there was no reason why the two men should not meet and that Erdogan would decide. 

Earlier this week, Karen Attiah, Khashoggi's editor at the Washington Post, said MBS should not be welcomed at the G20 summit.

"World leaders should not be gripping and grinning with tyrants who order the dismemberment of writers and the torture of women’s rights campaigners," she tweeted, referring to a recent Amnesty International report on the alleged torture of several Saudi human rights activists inside a Jeddah prison.

Attiah also described reports that Donald Trump intends to meet with MBS during the summit as "disgraceful".


Donald Trump pledges support for MBS

Indeed, the US president has sought to cast doubt on the US intelligence agency's conclusion that MBS was responsible for Khashoggi's murder and recently pledged to maintain Washington's close ties to Riyadh.

In a long-winded and widely criticised written statement released by the White House on Tuesday, Trump said both MBS and his father, Saudi King Salman, "deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder" of Khashoggi.

US will stand by Saudi Arabia despite Khashoggi killing, Trump says
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"Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!" he said.

"That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

On Thursday, the Qatari foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, said "whoever is responsible for Khashoggi's death needs to be held accountable".

Federica Mogherini, the EU's top diplomat, also said those "really responsible" for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi have to be held accountable.

Mogherini called for a "completely transparent and credible investigation" at a joint news conference on Thursday in Ankara with Cavusoglu and EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

She said: "For us accountability does not mean revenge."

Saudi officials have arrested 21 people they say were involved in the murder and recently said they would seek the death penalty for five suspects in the case.

Mogherini said she was against the use of the death penalty, AFP reported.

Earlier this week, Cavusoglu also said whoever ordered Khashoggi's murder should be held accountable and be brought to justice.

On Wednesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the kingdom would not tolerate any disparaging remarks against MBS or the king, saying criticism of the crown prince constitutes "a red line".