While Saudi Arabia has rejected allegations that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside its consulate in Turkey, international pressure has been mounting on the Kingdom. Countries are calling for a "credible investigation" into his disappearance with Turkey even accusing Riyadh of not cooperating with the probe.
Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist critical of Riyadh’s policies, disappeared on 2 October after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkey believes he was murdered and his body removed. Saudi Arabia has denied the same.
Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi King Salman on Sunday discussed the disappearance of Khashoggi in their first telephone talks on the controversy, both sides said.
Erdogan and Salman discussed "the issue of shedding light on the case of Jamal Khashoggi" and also emphasised the "importance of creating a joint working group within the framework of the investigation", a Turkish presidential source, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
Ankara had previously said a working group would be set up in line with a Saudi proposal. But few details have emerged over how this will function.
The Saudi foreign ministry said Salman affirmed his country's "solid" relations with Turkey in the phone call with Erdogan.
The king phoned Erdogan "to thank the president for welcoming the kingdom's proposal to form a joint working group to discuss the disappearance of Saudi citizen Jamal Khashoggi".
The outcry surrounding his disappearance threatens to not just harm brittle Turkey-Saudi relations but also alarm the kingdom's supporters in the West and tarnish the reform drive spearheaded by the crown prince.
Donald Trump calls for 'severe punishment'
US president Donald Trump has threatened Riyadh with "severe punishment" if the journalist was killed inside its Istanbul consulate. "We're going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment," Trump said.
"As of this moment, they (Saudi) deny it and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes," Trump said.
"Well, there's a lot at stake. And maybe especially so because this man was a reporter. There's something — you'll be surprised to hear me say that. There's something really terrible and disgusting about that if that were the case. So we're gonna have to see. We're going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment," Trump told CBS News.
Trump, however, opposed the idea of cancelling the mega $110 billion arms deal with Riyadh, saying this will hurt American companies and jobs. "There are other things we can do that are very, very powerful, very strong and we’ll do them," he added, without saying what those measures might be.
US senators called for reactions ranging from boycotting an upcoming economic summit in Riyadh to ending support for Saudi military operations in Yemen.
Britain, France, Germany call for 'credible investigation'
Britain, France and Germany called on the Saudi and Turkish authorities on Sunday to mount a "credible investigation" into the disappearance of Khashoggi, saying they were treating the incident with "the utmost seriousness".
In a joint statement, Britain's foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian and Germany's Heiko Maas said whoever was responsible for the Saudi journalist's disappearance must be held to account.
"Defending freedom of expression and a free press and ensuring the protection of journalists are key priorities for Germany, the United Kingdom and France," the ministers said in a statement issued by the Foreign Office in London.
While expressing support for joint Saudi-Turkish efforts to look into his disappearance, they said the Saudi government must provide "a complete and detailed response", indicating that such a message had been conveyed "directly" to Riyadh.
Riyadh vows 'retaliation'
Saudi Arabia on Sunday warned against threats to punish it over Khashoggi's disappearance as European leaders piled on pressure and said it would retaliate against any sanctions imposed on the oil-rich Kingdom.
"The Kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures, or repeating false accusations," the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted an unnamed official as saying.
"The Kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action and that the Kingdom’s economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy," the official added, without elaborating.
Saudi Arabia insists Khashoggi left the building safely and dismissed accusations that authorities had ordered his murder by a hit squad as "lies and baseless allegations".
Oil prices will likely rise
An escalation of tensions could send oil prices sharply higher, upend the West Asia peace process, and fracture international efforts to contain Iran, according to a CNBC report.
"The market has again expressed concerns over geopolitical tensions in West Asia after US and Saudi traded comments over the disappearance of the Saudi journalist, leading to a jump in prices," Wang Xiao, head of crude research with Guotai Junan Futures, wrote in a research note.
However, Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told CNBC that realpolitik would likely prevent the West — especially the US — from acting against the Saudis too aggressively. The Trump administration, which is all set to impose a new set of sanctions on Iran in November, is heavily relying on Saudi Arabia.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Oct 15, 2018 13:54 PM