The US will punish those responsible for killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi by revoking visas and possibly imposing Global Magnitsky Act sanctions, but Saudi Arabia remains an important ally, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Twenty-one Saudi citizens will have their US visas revoked or be declared ineligible for them as part of the response, the State Department said on Tuesday. In a short press conference, Pompeo said the US was “exploring” the option of imposing sanctions as well.
“These penalties will not be the last word on the matter from the United States,” the US top diplomat said. “We’re making very clear that the US does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence.”
The Saudi journalist who had permanent residence in the US was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey at the beginning of October. For two weeks, Riyadh denied Turkish accusations that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, only to admit he died “in a fistfight” with several government officials who were reportedly sent to persuade him to return.
Khashoggi was an outspoken critic of the current ruling faction of the Saudi court, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The US is working with both Turkish and Saudi intelligence to gather facts about what happened to Khashoggi, Pompeo said. The Trump administration is not going to take anyone’s word for anything, he explained, but “we are going to accept the dataset we intend to develop. We have people working all across the world… to put our own understanding together.”
Pompeo dodged questions on whether the US will push for the ouster of Bin Salman over the Khashoggi affair, however, noting that Saudi Arabia is still an important ally in the Middle East and that US relations with the desert kingdom will continue.
Earlier in the day, US President Donald dubbed the Khashoggi affair “the worst cover-up in the history of cover-ups.”