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White House: We back Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi crisis

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump heaped praise on Saudi Arabia and cast doubt on their involvement
Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that Saudi leaders strongly denied any knowledge of what took place in their Istanbul consulate (AFP)

Senior White House officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US President Donald Trump, have heaped praise on Saudi Arabia and cast doubt about the country's involvement in the disappearance and likely death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In an interview with Fox Business Network on Wednesday, Trump said the US needs Saudi Arabia in its fight against terrorism.

"We need Saudi Arabia in terms of our fight against all of the terrorism, everything that's happening in Iran and other places," he said.

Asked if the US would walk away from its longtime ally over Khashoggi's disappearance, Trump said: "I do not want to do that."

"We'll get down to the bottom of it," Trump told the US television network.

"I hope that the king and crown prince did not know about it. That's a big factor in my eyes," he added, referring to Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

For his part, Pompeo said on Tuesday that Saudi leaders strongly denied any knowledge of what took place in their Istanbul consulate during a visit by Khashoggi and promised a serious and credible investigation.

"During each of today's meetings, the Saudi leadership strongly denied any knowledge of what took place in their consulate in Istanbul," Pompeo said in a statement from Saudi Arabia.

"My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including accountability for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders or senior officials."

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Similarly, Trump tweeted yesterday that he spoke to bin Salman, who "totally denied any knowledge of what took place" in Istanbul.

The US president dismissed claims of Saudi Arabia's involvement and compared the situation to the sexual allegations of now-US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“Here we go again with you’re guilty until proven innocent,” he told the Associated Press.

In two tweets, the US president wrote that MBS took the call in the presence of Pompeo, who was dispatched to Saudi Arabia this week amid a growing diplomatic nightmare over Khashoggi's disappearance.

Trump said Bin Salman told him "that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter".

"Answers will be forthcoming shortly," Trump tweeted.

Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Tuesday in Saudi Arabia, and he "reiterated US concern" over Khashoggi's disappearance, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"The secretary and the foreign minister agreed on the importance of a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation," Nauert said.

Pompeo was then in Turkey on Wednesday to probe the incident further. He met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and "reiterated the US' willingness to assist Turkey in its investigation", his press office said in a statement.

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