By Steve Holland and Bulent Usta
WASHINGTON/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday gave Saudi Arabia more time to investigate the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as Turkish investigators searched Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul for a second time in a hunt for clues.
U.S. President Donald Trump met for less than an hour with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who gave the president an update on his talks this week with Saudi and Turkish officials about the Khashoggi case amid concern that the journalist was killed in the consulate after entering it on Oct. 2.
Pompeo told reporters after his talks with Trump that he made clear to the Saudis in his visit to Riyadh that “we take this matter with respect to Mr. Khashoggi very seriously.”
“They made clear to me that they too understand the serious nature of the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi. They also assured me that they will conduct a complete, thorough investigation of all of the facts surrounding Mr. Khashoggi and that they will do so in a timely fashion,” Pompeo added.
Pompeo said he told Trump that “we ought to give them a few more days to complete” their investigation in order to get a full understanding of what happened “at which point we can make decisions about how – or if – the United States should respond to the incident surrounding Mr. Khashoggi.”
“I think it’s important for us all to remember to, we have a long – since 1932 – a long strategic relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Pompeo added.
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi – a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist who was a strong critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – was murdered at the consulate and his body chopped up and removed.
Turkish investigators left the Saudi consulate in Istanbul early on Thursday after searching the building and consular vehicles, a Reuters witness said. They used bright lights to illuminate the garden. Earlier, they spent nearly nine hours in the Saudi consul’s residence along with Saudi investigators.
The Turkish search, which used a drone, included the roof and garage.
Khashoggi had gone to the consulate seeking documents for his planned upcoming marriage and has not been seen since. Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in the disappearance.
The incident has caused a global outcry but also poses a dilemma for the United States and other Western nations, which have lucrative business dealings with the authoritarian kingdom and count on it as a leading Middle East ally and opponent of their common enemy Iran.
(Additional reporting by Umit Ozdal, Yesim Dikmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Istanbul, John Irish and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, Bart Meijer in Amsterdam, Alistair Smout and Kylie MacLellan in London; Writing by Daren Butler and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Will Dunham)