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Saudi king makes no mention of Khashoggi in first comments since murder

Saudi Arabia's King Salman instead criticised Iran and pledged to support UN efforts to end war in Yemen
King Salman spoke before Saudi Arabia's Shura Council, a top governmental body, on Monday (Reuters)

Despite ongoing international pressure on Riyadh over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi King Salman made no mention of the journalist in a wide-ranging speech before Saudi Arabia's Shura Council on Monday.

Instead, the king used his first public comments since Khashoggi's murder last month to condemn the actions of Iran, Saudi Arabia's main rival in the region, in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

"The Iranian regime has always intervened in the internal affairs of other countries, sponsored terrorism, created chaos and devastation in many countries in the region," said the 82-year-old monarch during an address before the top governmental advisory body.

"The international community has to work to put an end to the Iranian nuclear programme and stop its activities that threaten security and stability."

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While King Salman has largely stepped back from active political life and handed extensive authority to his son and heir apparent, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he now appears to be trying to defuse the crisis caused by Khashoggi's murder.

Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic and Washington Post columnist, was murdered in Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

Prominent Saudi officials, including several top advisers to the crown prince, have been blamed for Khashoggi's killing, but the Saudi government insists that bin Salman, also known as MBS, had no knowledge of the murder.

Human rights groups, journalists, Turkish government officials, and even the CIA, however, have said they believe MBS ordered the killing.

Criticism over Yemen war

Riyadh has also recently come under growing international criticism for its role in the Yemen war, which has brought the country to the brink of famine and killed tens of thousands of civilians.

A Saudi-led coalition launched a military campaign in Yemen in 2015 to root out the country's Iran-backed Houthi rebels, and the Saudi crown prince is the architect of that intervention.

On Monday, King Salman said Riyadh supported United Nations efforts to end the conflict in Yemen.

"Our standing by Yemen was not an option but a duty to support the Yemeni people in confronting the aggression of Iranian-backed militias," he said.

The Houthis said on Monday they were halting drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their Yemeni allies, and indicated readiness for a broader ceasefire if the Saudi-led coalition "wants peace".

In his speech, King Salman said Riyadh would continue working with OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers to maintain stability in global energy markets.

He also reaffirmed Saudi support for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, a long-standing position thrown into question last year when the crown prince appeared to back a nascent US peace plan that aligns with Israel on key issues.

Riyadh has faced criticism for its role in creating a humanitarian crisis in Yemen (AFP)

King pledges continued support for MBS

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said the order to kill Khashoggi came from the "highest levels" of the Saudi leadership, but not from King Salman, putting the spotlight instead on the 33-year-old crown prince.

US President Donald Trump has suggested the ultimate responsibility lies with MBS since he is Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler.

His administration has imposed economic and travel restrictions on more than a dozen Saudi citizens for their alleged involvement in the killing, and the president also acknowledged that people close to the prince "were probably involved".

However, Trump has also said he values a close Saudi-US relationship. "I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good," he recently said.

On Monday, King Salman signalled that the crown prince remains empowered to pursue ambitious economic reforms, praising a "comprehensive developmental transformation" underway in the kingdom.

He directed his son, who was in the hall during the king's address, "to focus on ... preparing the new generation for future jobs".

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King Salman also praised the Saudi judiciary and prosecution service for "performing the duties they were entrusted with," without elaborating further.

The Saudi public prosecutor last week exonerated MBS of involvement in Khashoggi's murder.

Last week, after offering numerous contradictory explanations for Khashoggi's disappearance, Riyadh said he had been killed and his body dismembered when "negotiations" to convince him to return to Saudi Arabia failed.

The public prosecutor said it would seek the death penalty for five suspects in the case, but did not reveal the identities of those five suspects.