DUBAI UAE, - Following a heated weekend exchange, Washington and Riyadh were back working cooperatively on Monday in a bid to diffuse tensions and find a way out of the dilemma confronting both countries over the disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington DC resident Jamal Khashoggi.
U.S. President Donald Trump however came under fire for floating the idea that 'rogue killers' could be behind the disappearance and suspected murder of Khashoggi.
Mr Trump said he had spoken to King Salman, the Saudi monarch, who he says knows nothing about the death of the journalist. When asked about his call, Mr Trump volunteered that 'rogue killers' could be responsible.
“The king firmly denied any knowledge of it,” the president told reporters after speaking with King Salman.
“He didn’t really know, maybe, I don’t want to get into his mind but it sounded to me, maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”
The New York Times meantime has quoted a source close to the Saudi government as saying the kingdom is readying to admit Khashoggi died in the consulate in Istanbul, but it was as the result of a botched interrogation. The story says Crown Prince Salman had ordered the detention of Khashoggi for interrogation, or possible rendition back to Saudi Arabia, but things had gone wrong. The Saudis, said the newspaper report, would deny the columnist's death was authorised, and that those responsible for it would be held accountable. It should be stressed this is an unconfirmewd report. Like most reports circulating about this story, it has come from an unofficial, unnamed individual.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy was quick to scoff at the 'theory,' and slammed President Trump for floating it.
“Been hearing the ridiculous ‘rogue killers’ theory was where the Saudis would go with this,” he tweeted. “Absolutely extraordinary they were able to enlist the President of the United States as their PR agent to float it," he added.
Murphy was not on his own.
“President Trump’s suggestion that Khashoggi’s elaborately planned murder in the Saudi’s own consulate was orchestrated by ‘rogue killers’ defies reality," Chris Van Hollen, Democratic senator from Maryland tweeted on Monday. "Orders must have come from the top. The U.S. must not be complicit in an effort to cover-up this heinous crime,” he said.
Meantime some major turns in the affair occurred on Monday.
Firstly King Salman ordered an internal investigating into the disappearance of Khashoggi.
Then on Monday night, nearly two weeks after Khashoggi went missing, Turkish investigators were allowed to search the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
A team of about 11 investigators, including forensic examiners, entered the building shortly before 7:30pm local time on Monday night.
Additionally, Mr Trump has sent U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh to confer with the Saudi king, this after a heated exchange on Sunday and Monday when Mr Trump firstly suggested "severe punishment" would be in store if it was concluded Saudi Arabia was responsible for the disappearance and death of Khashoggi - followed by a strongly worded denial of any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance, and threats of retaliation by Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia too has garnered the support of its Arab neighbours, with several countries including the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan throwing their weight behind the kingdom.
The climate in recent days has become precarious for Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the United States. If there was to be a significant change it would have widespread ramifications in the region in particular, but also globally.
A number of high-profile company executives have withdrawn their support for a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia, scheduled to go ahead next week. One prominent UAE businessman on Monday called for boycotts on those companies and individuals.
The Saudi stock market dropped sharply on Sunday, at one stage falling by 7%, however it recovered half those losses before the close, and on Monday the benchmark Saudi index actually rose 2%.