Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has visited Turkey for the first time since the 2018 murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan embraced the prince before they held talks aimed at repairing a deep rift.
Turkey’s president once indirectly accused Prince Mohammed of ordering Saudi agents to kill Jamal Khashoggi. He denied any involvement.
Turkey is currently seeking trade, investment and assistance to help it deal with a worsening economic crisis.
It has also worked to improve relations with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel after years of tensions.
Following their talks, a joint statement said the two men discussed improving relations and investment in sectors from energy to defence, among others.
The Saudi crown prince wants to end his international isolation and restore his powerful regional role.
He also visited Jordan and Egypt this week as part of a Middle East tour and next month will meet President Joe Biden, who promised in 2019 to make Saudi Arabia “the pariah that they are” over Khashoggi’s murder.
Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based Washington Post columnist and prominent critic of Prince Mohammed, was last seen entering the Istanbul consulate on October 2, 2018, where he had gone to get papers needed to marry his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.
A UN investigator concluded Khashoggi had been “brutally slain” by a 15-strong team of Saudi agents sent from Riyadh, and that his body had been dismembered.
She made that judgement after listening to purported audio recordings of conversations inside the consulate made by Turkish intelligence.
While President Erdogan did not directly accuse Prince Mohammed, he claimed he knew the order to kill Jamal Khashoggi had come “from the highest levels of the Saudi government”.
US intelligence agencies concluded that the crown prince had approved an operation to capture or kill Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi prosecutors blamed “rogue” agents and said the prince had had no knowledge of the operation.
A year after the killing, a Saudi court found five unnamed people guilty of directly participating in the killing and handed them death sentences that were later commuted to 20-year prison terms, while three others were jailed for seven to 10 years for covering up the crime.
Hatice Cengiz condemned the decision to welcome Prince Mohammed to Turkey and vowed to continue her fight for justice.
“The political legitimacy he earns through the visits he makes to a different country every day doesn’t change the fact that he is a murderer,” she tweeted.
The trial of 20 Saudi nationals accused of killing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has begun in absentia in Turkey.
Jamal Khashoggi, 59, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
Those being tried include two former top aides to Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Jamal Khashoggi was a vocal critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia carried out a separate trial over the killing that was heavily criticized as incomplete.
The trial in Istanbul follows an international outcry over the murder, which tarnished the prince’s reputation.
Turkish prosecutors accuse the former deputy head of Saudi intelligence, Ahmed al-Asiri, and the royal court’s media adviser Saud al-Qahtani of having led the operation and instructed a Saudi hit team.
The other 18 defendants are accused of having suffocated Jamal Khashoggi, whose remains have not been found. Turkish officials say his body was dismembered and removed to an unknown site.
Jamal Khashoggi, who was resident in the US, had entered the consulate seeking papers for his impending wedding.
The journalist’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz is attending the trial alongside the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, who has directly linked the crown prince to the killing, AFP news agency reports.
The Saudi authorities initially denied any involvement in the case, but later called it a “rogue operation”.
In December 2019, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death and three to jail for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, but the trial was secretive and the defendants were not named.
A senior aide to the crown prince, Saud al-Qahtani, was sacked and
investigated over the killing but not charged “due to insufficient
evidence”, the public prosecution said. Former Deputy Intelligence Chief
Ahmad Asiri was put on trial but acquitted on the same grounds.
The Turkish foreign ministry said the decision of the Saudi court
“falls short of the expectations of Turkey and the international community
for the clarification of all aspects of this murder and the serving of
Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, called the Saudi announcement
The publisher of the Washington Post,
for whom Jamal Khashoggi wrote columns, said: “The complete lack of transparency and the Saudi government’s
refusal to co-operate with independent investigators suggests that this was
merely a sham trial.”
However, Jamal Khashoggi’s son Salah, who lives in Saudi Arabia, tweeted: “We affirm our confidence in the Saudi
judiciary at all levels, that it has been fair to us and that justice has been
Jamal Khashoggi, who went into self-imposed exile in the US in 2017, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate on October 2, 2018, to obtain papers he needed to marry Hatice Cengiz.
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