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U.S. Officials Haven't Yet Confirmed What Happened To Khashoggi


When journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia said it knew nothing about it, even though Khashoggi was last seen walking into the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Turkish officials are accusing Saudi Arabia of murdering the journalist, who was a vocal critic of the Saudi regime. Now there are several reports suggesting that Saudi Arabia's leaders may have known more than they let on. Meanwhile, President Trump dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh, where he's meeting today with King Salman and with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is on that trip traveling with the secretary and joins us now from Riyadh. Michele, can you just start by explaining what the Saudis believe happened to Jamal Khashoggi? What are they saying?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, you know, officially, they haven't said anything different than what they've said all along. You're hearing sources privately floating some other ideas that he was interrogated and it was an interrogation gone wrong. There are lots of different versions of events out there. But what the U.S. officials who are traveling with Pompeo are saying is, look; we haven't heard this from them directly. We're waiting for these meetings. We want to hear what they say face to face, and that's what Secretary Pompeo is doing here. They've been very tight-lipped about what they think about this changing storyline that seems to be happening from the Saudis.

MARTIN: Yeah, you're referencing all these media reports we saw in the last 24 hours suggesting that Saudi Arabian officials were about to release a report saying that it was actually an interrogation gone wrong, as you point out. Saudi Arabia has yet to confirm or release any such report. But can you explain what Secretary Pompeo's role is in this moment? Why, when Saudi Arabia would be connected even tangentially to something like this, would President Trump dispatch his secretary of state to stand right next to the people at the center of it allegedly?

KELEMEN: Well, it's so interesting. I mean, this is such a key relationship in the region and key for the Trump administration's policy in the region. You know, I mean, they're about to - on Iran. They need the Saudis to continue to have oil flowing to make sure that there's not going to be a big disruption in the market. They're relying on the Saudis for this peace plan that they've yet to unveil for the Middle East peace. So for the Trump administration, this is pretty shocking issue to be dealing with and not something they seem to really want to be dealing with. Though a State Department spokesperson said that determining what happened to Khashoggi is of great importance to this administration. They want to sit down face to face and hear their side of events before rushing to judgment about anything. And you'll remember that the president himself has been very hesitant to speak out too strongly about the Saudis also. He says that, you know, he doesn't want to upset lucrative arms deals with the Saudis.

MARTIN: Right, and the president even suggesting volunteering yesterday, that the people responsible for Khashoggi's disappearance and murder could be, quote, unquote, "rogue killers." NPR's Michele Kelemen has been traveling with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and joined us on the line from Riyadh. Michele, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.