Iran sits back and watches amid Khashoggi furore
TEHRAN - Iran has been playing it cool as it watches the furore over the disappearance of writer Jamal Khashoggi create a crisis for its regional rival Saudi Arabia.
As of Wednesday, the government had yet to make any official comment on the alleged murder of Khashoggi who vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Barraged by questions at his weekly press conference on Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said only that Iran was monitoring events.
The Iranian press has been reprinting the gruesome claims from Turkish and other international sources that Khashoggi was tortured and dismembered inside the consulate, and on Wednesday alleged a cover-up by Riyadh and Washington.
"US, Turkey and Saudi colluding to close the murder case of Jamal Khashoggi," read the headline on Wednesday's Jomhuri Eslami, a conservative paper, as it reported on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to Riyadh and Ankara.
"Pompeo's mission in travelling to Riyadh and then Turkey is to cover up Saudi brutality and scandal by making up stories, and this very project is an excuse to keep milking the Saudis (for weapons' contracts)," added the Javan newspaper, considered close to the Revolutionary Guards.
Asked during an interview on Fox Business what punitive steps he had in mind if he learned Saudi Arabia was responsible, US President Donald Trump said: "Well, I hope we're going to be on the better side of the equation.
"You know we need Saudi Arabia in terms of our fight against all of the terrorism, everything that's happening in Iran and other places."
The US and Saudi Arabia have long been allies, with both opposed to Riyadh's regional nemesis Iran since the country's 1979 revolution.
Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of seeking to export its revolution to neighbouring countries in order to expand its influence within the Persian Gulf and the wider region.
The two countries have provided varying degrees of support to opposing sides in nearby conflicts, including the civil wars in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. There is also tension over Tehran's controversial nuclear program.
Asked if the US would be willing to walk away from Saudi Arabia, Trump said: "I do not want to do that and frankly they have a tremendous order, $110 billion," referring to a promised US arms sales to the kingdom.
"It is 500,000 jobs, it will be ultimately $110 billion, it's the biggest order in the history of our country from an outside military, and I said we are gonna turn that down?" he added.
"So hopefully it is working out. We'll find out, we'll get down to the bottom of it. I hope that the king and the crown prince didn't know about it."
"That is a big factor in my eyes, and I hope they haven't."
Trump sent his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh this week for talks with the Saudi leadership marked by expressions of mutual goodwill.
The US chief diplomat pointedly refused to blame the kingdom and declared he did not want "to talk about any of the facts."
Reza Ghabishavi, in the reformist Arman newspaper, acknowledged the silence from Iran's leaders over the case.
"The whole world... has reacted, but after two weeks, Iran has made no remarks," he wrote.
"Of course, it's obvious the whole thing is in the interests of Iran because on the one hand it has caused serious differences between America and Saudi Arabia, and on the other hand, the young prince's reforms in Saudi Arabia have been destroyed in the public opinion of the world," he added.
Ghabishavi also pointed out that Khashoggi was no friend of Iran, having strongly criticised the country's foreign interventions in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
The case comes just a few weeks before full US sanctions are reimposed on Iran following Washington's decision to scrap the 2015 nuclear deal.
Although the sanctions have contributed to a sharp economic downturn in Iran, its leaders have relished a rare opportunity to hold the moral high ground on the international scene, as much of the world criticises the aggression of US moves against Iran.
"Everyone knows that America has lost legally and politically by giving up on its international obligations and that we have achieved victory," said President Hassan Rouhani in a speech on Sunday.
The Tehran Times emphasised that Khashoggi's alleged assassination was the inevitable result of the West's long-running support for Saudi monarchs.
"This is your own doing," wrote editor-in-chief Mohammad Ghaderi, addressing Western governments. "You pick puppets to rule over (their) lands... and back terrorist Wahhabis."
The controversy has blown a massive hole in attempts by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to promote himself as a modern reformer, and led to a spate of cancellations from a major Riyadh investment conference scheduled next week.