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How Saudis are getting away with Khashoggi murder

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As gruesome details continue to emerge about Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, the politics obscuring the truth around the journalist’s death have been largely hidden from public view, reported News.com.au (Australia).

Leaders across the globe are facing a moral quandary over the sickening killing, with many buying oil from Saudi Arabia or selling the kingdom arms — and none more so than Donald Trump.

After the Washington Post columnist disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, the kingdom initially claimed he was alive.

When the outspoken critic of the regime did not reappear, the administration blamed his death on rogue agents, who killed him in a fist fight.

The US President, whose country is the biggest supplier of arms to the kingdom, called the claims “credible”.

But as more information emerged from the Turkish authorities about the murder at the Saudi consulate, Mr Trump called it “the worst in the history of cover-ups”.

Mr Khashoggi’s fiancee said she declined an invitation to the White House to meet Mr Trump, because she did not believe the Presiden’t motives were sincere.

“I perceived it as a statement to win the sympathy of the public. That’s how I understood it,” she told Turkish television network Haberturk.

In a New York Times piece published earlier this week, Ms Cengiz said she would speak with the President only “if he makes a genuine contribution to the efforts to reveal what happened inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that day.”

“I demand that all those involved in this savagery from the highest to the lowest levels are punished and brought to justice,” she said.

Riyadh dismissed Ankara’s calls to extradite 18 Saudis being held over the murder of Mr Khashoggi as Washington warned the crisis risked destabilising the Middle East.

“The individuals are Saudi nationals. They’re detained in Saudi Arabia, and the investigation is in Saudi Arabia, and they will be prosecuted in Saudi Arabia,” Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told a regional defence forum in Bahrain.

He was responding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who on Friday renewed his call for the 18 men to be extradited for trial in Turkey.

Mr Erdogan said the dissident journalist was the victim of a carefully planned “political murder” by Saudi intelligence officers and other officials.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman then denounced the “heinous crime”, and the nation’s public prosecutor then conceded the murder was “premeditated”. The administration denies any involvement in the death.

Four senior intelligence officials and an adviser to the crown prince have been fired as Saudi Arabia tries to distance Prince Mohammed from Khashoggi’s slaying.

As conflicting reports stack up, some leaders have been slow to condemn the country or call for sanctions — and many observers believe this is because of their financial reliance on Saudi gold.

GRISLY PRICE OF PETROL
The United States relies on Saudi Arabia for oil, and needs its resources to keep the price of petrol down.

Mr Trump’s sanctions on Iran have been strangling oil markets, with the country’s exports falling by around one million barrels a day and Saudi output rising by just 300,000 barrels a day between June and October, according to Politico.

With barrels nearing the $100 mark less than two weeks before the midterm elections, Mr Trump needs Saudi Arabia to increase its exports. And that assistance is now emerging, with Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih saying the kingdom will make sure global demand is met.

“We will meet any demand,” he said on Tuesday, promising to increase exports by 300,000 barrels a day and saying there was another million barrels of spare capacity, and potential to invest in more.

His comments calmed skittish oil markets. The international oil price is down around $9, from $85 just after Khashoggi’s murder to $76 on Tuesday.

While no explicit link has been made between Mr Trump’s soft stance and the promises to increase production, oil is Saudi Arabia’s greatest bargaining chip in avoiding punishment over Khashoggi’s murder.

Even previously friendly Republicans are now calling for sanctions and an arms embargo as the truth emerges about the authorities’ role in the killing.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani hit out at Mr Trump, saying the “heinous murder” would have been unthinkable “without US backing”.

THE WEAPONS QUESTION
The other murky business linking global leaders to the uncontrolled Saudi regime is weapons.

The US is the biggest Saudi arms supplier, and Europe has also been selling billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the kingdom for decades.

Many European Union politicians are calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia as well as a ban on “surveillance systems” and other items that could be used for repression. But there has been no EU-wide push for an embargo.

Leading Greens politician Ska Keller said: “EU countries must not continue to turn a blind eye to the serious human rights violations committed by the Saudi government.”

Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sanchez said his government would fulfil past arms sales contracts with Saudi Arabia despite his “dismay” over the “terrible murder”, explaining that protecting jobs in Spain was central to his decision last month to go ahead with a controversial bomb shipment to Saudi Arabia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said arms exports to Saudi Arabia “can’t take place in the situation we’re currently in,” citing Khashoggi’s death.

The German leader said she was prepared to take “appropriate measures together with international partners” following the killing.

In a call with King Salman, she condemned Khashoggi’s killing “in the sharpest possible manner” and asked Saudi Arabia to “ensure a swift, transparent and credible investigation” and hold those responsible to account.

She also urged Saudi Arabia to ensure aid access to Yemen, which is in the grip of a three-year war between the Saudi-led alliance and Shite rebels known as Houthis.

Some US politicians have said Washington should block military sales to Riyadh if the allegations against the administration are proven. But Mr Trump said he thought that would be a mistake. “I actually think we’d be punishing ourselves if we did that,” he told reporters at the White House on October 14. “There are other things we can do that are very, very powerful, very strong, and we’ll do them.”

GORY EVIDENCE WITHHELD
What happens next may depend on Turkey.

Turkish officials reportedly have a recording of the alleged “ferocious” torture and dismemberment, but Mr Erdogan has held back such evidence, if it exists. He has also refrained from naming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as directly involved, although he referred to King Salman’s “sincerity”.

Mr Erdogan has called for trials for the 18 suspects in the “ferocious” killing.

Initially it was reported Khashoggi’s Apple Watch may have recorded his brutal murder — but now it seems likely Turkish spies were covertly recording what was happening in the consulate, either using a listening device hidden inside or by aiming a powerful microphone at the building from outside.

If uncontrovertible evidence emerges that the Saudi government planned Khashoggi’s execution, Mr Trump and other Western leaders would have little choice other than to roundly condemn the kingdom and take punitive action.

But if they were to do so, the Saudis could retaliate, hitting the US where it hurts.

The kingdom warned on October 15 that it would “respond with greater action” to any threats of economic or political pressure from the West.

In a furious opinion piece published last night, Turki al-Dakhil, general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel, warned the US “will stab its own economy to death” if it tried to impose sanctions.

“Nobody should rule out the price jumping to $100 and $200 a barrel or maybe double that figure,” warned Mr al-Dakhil, an ally of the Saudi royal court.

It’s therefore in Mr Trump’s interest for the Khashoggi’s murder to remain shrouded in mystery — at least until the elections are over.

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