A senior Saudi prince cast doubt upon the reported CIA finding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, saying the agency could not be counted on to reach a credible conclusion.
“The CIA is not necessarily the highest standard of veracity or accuracy in assessing situations. The examples of that are multitude,” Prince Turki al-Faisal, a senior member of the royal family, told journalists in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
The prince, a former Saudi intelligence chief who has also served as ambassador to the United States, said the agency’s conclusion that Iraq possessed chemical weapons before the US invasion in 2003 showed it could be unreliable.
“That was the most glaring of inaccurate and wrong assessments, which led to a full-scale war with thousands being killed,” he said, speaking at an event hosted by the New York-based Beirut Institute.
“I don’t see why the CIA is not on trial in the United States. This is my answer to their assessment of who is guilty and who is not and who did what in the consulate in Istanbul.”
The CIA has concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered the operation to kill Khashoggi, as first reported by the Washington Post, and briefed other parts of the US government on its findings, sources told Reuters news agency last week.
US President Donald Trump has disputed that the agency reached a conclusion on the murder, saying instead “they have feelings certain ways”.
A Turkish newspaper also reported on Thursday that CIA director Gina Haspel signaled to Turkish officials that the agency had a recording of a call in which the crown prince gave instructions to “silence” the journalist.
Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 in an operation that Turkish authorities have said was ordered by the highest level of Saudi leadership, prompting the kingdom’s biggest political crisis in a generation.
After offering numerous contradictory explanations, Riyadh said Khashoggi was killed and his body dismembered after negotiations to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed.
The kingdom’s public prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged in the murder, but has said Prince Mohammed had no prior knowledge of the operation.
Prince Turki told The Associated Press news agency the killing of Khashoggi was “an unacceptable incident that tars and mars the long record of Saudi Arabia’s own standing in the world”.
“We will have to bear that. It’s not something that should not be faced. And we do face it,” he said.
Dealing with Saudi Arabia
Prince Mohammed embarked late Thursday on his first foreign tour since the killing with a visit to the United Arab Emirates. He is expected to visit Bahrain and Tunisia before going to Buenos Aires on November 30 for the start of the two-day G-20 summit, where he’ll come face to face with world leaders.
Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has kept international pressure mounting on the kingdom, are among those expected to attend.
“Whether the leaders in that summit will warmly engage with the crown prince or not, I think all of them recognise that the kingdom as a country and King Salman and the crown prince are people that they have to deal with,” the prince said.
He said Saudi Arabia will continue to play a role on the world stage and that Trump’s statement of support for Saudi Arabia recognises the importance of the kingdom.
“I thought President Trump was expressing what he felt was in the interest of the United States. He emphasised the strategic relationship between the two countries in the same statement and how Saudi Arabia has been helpful in many instances — not just oil,” Prince Turki said.
The prince, who led Saudi intelligence for more than two decades and served as ambassador to the US and Britain, worked closely for years with Khashoggi before the writer became an outspoken government critic.
Khashoggi worked under Prince Turki as a spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in London and later in Washington, DC.
The prince’s father is the late King Faisal and his brother is Prince Khalid al-Faisal, the governor of Mecca.
Prince Turki said that reports of discontent within the ruling Al Saud family over the crown prince’s rapid rise to power do not reflect the “extraordinary support” that King Salman and his son, the crown prince, enjoy.
“I see no signs of such disquiet or uncertainty vis-a-vi the king and the crown prince,” he said.
The prince spoke during a policy briefing by the Beirut Institute Summit, a brainchild of Arab writer and columnist Raghida Dergham. The prince is a board member and supporter of the summit, which draws upon recommendations of its participants to put forth policy ideas for the Middle East.
Among its recommendations is support for the Arab Peace Initiative, a Saudi initiative dating back to the early 2000s that calls for east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in exchange for Arab state recognition of Israel and normalised relations.
In the absence of peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis, Gulf Arab states have moved ahead with their own outreach to Israel.
The driving force appears to be shared concern over Iran’s expansion in the region. Oman, which has often played the role of regional mediator, welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a surprise visit last month.
Prince Turki, who himself appeared on a panel last year alongside a former chief for Israel’s Mossad spy agency, said such appearances do not represent a normalising of relations with Israel.
“I don’t think it’s so much a rapprochement as, how can I put it, a shot by shot deal that rises as happened with the effort by the Sultan of Oman to push for a restart of the negotiations,” he said.