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US tells Saudi crown prince that Khashoggi killers will be held accountable

Pompeo also reiterates US call for cessation of hostilities in Yemen, in phone call with crown prince
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AFP/file photo)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday the US will hold accountable all those involved in the killing of a dissident Saudi journalist, in a telephone call that also addressed the war in Yemen.

The killing of Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul and the war in Yemen, which has pushed the country to the brink of famine, are two of the main sources of strain in the decades-old alliance between Washington and Riyadh, AFP said.

The crown prince, also known as MBS, is linked to both: he has played a direct role in overseeing Saudi Arabia's Yemen conflict and has also been accused of orchestrating the 2 October murder of Khashoggi, who was a US resident.

"The secretary emphasised that the United States will hold all of those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable, and that Saudi Arabia must do the same," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The top US diplomat has previously said Khashoggi's killing "violates the norms of international law," and that the US was reviewing possible sanctions on individuals identified as having been involved.  

Still, Pompeo and US President Donald Trump have also both emphasised America's important commercial, strategic and national security relationships with the important oil-producing country.

Increasing the pressure on Saudi Arabia, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey had shared recordings related to Khashoggi's murder with Washington and other capitals, without giving details of their specific contents.

After repeated denials, Saudi Arabia finally admitted the 59-year-old journalist had been murdered at its diplomatic mission in what it termed a "rogue" operation.

Despite admitting the prominent critic of the Saudi government was killed in a premeditated murder, the kingdom has sought to insulate its de-facto leader bin Salman from the scandal.

Middle East Eye has previously revealed that seven of those sent to kill Khashoggi were members of the crown prince's personal security detail.

Some were members of a death outfit known as the Tiger Squad, a team of assassins with close ties to MBS that is used to muzzle dissenters, MEE discovered.

To date, two of MBS's closest allies, top aide Saoud al-Qahtani and deputy intelligence chief Mohammed al-Assir, have been identified by Riyadh as co-conspirators.

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The heir to the Saudi throne denies he was aware of the plot to kill Khashoggi or the attempted cover-up.

Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, was critical of MBS and the country's intervention in Yemen, a conflict that also came up during the call, said Nauert. 

Pompeo "reiterated the United States' calls for a cessation of hostilities and for all parties to come to the table to negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict," she said.

Pompeo has previously called for an end to the fighting in the impoverished Arab state, saying that Shia Houthi rebels must stop missile and drone strikes from areas they control and that the Saudi-led coalition must subsequently halt strikes in populated areas.

Pompeo's latest remarks come just days after the announcement of the end of a controversial refuelling arrangement between the US and the Saudi-led coalition carrying out strikes in Yemen - a step that lessens American involvement in the war.

The Pentagon had provided refuelling capabilities for about 20 percent of coalition planes flying sorties over Yemen, supporting a highly controversial intervention led by Riyadh to bolster exiled President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi's government in the face of an insurgency by the Houthis - a conflict that has left more than 56,000 people dead, according to researchers.

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