Saudis back 'thorough' probe into missing journalist
RIYADH - US top diplomat Mike Pompeo met Tuesday with Saudi King Salman and the crown prince seeking to defuse a crisis over missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with American officials saying Riyadh had agreed the need for a "thorough" probe.
The urgent talks came after US President Donald Trump dispatched Pompeo to the Gulf kingdom amid a growing international outcry about Khashoggi's disappearance.
Khashoggi has not been seen since he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to sort out marriage paperwork.
"Rogue killers" could be to blame, Trump said after telephone talks on Monday with the king.
After first meeting with the king, Pompeo held separate talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir and powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
"We are strong and old allies. We face our challenges together," the crown prince said as he warmly welcomed Pompeo at the palace. The two men were also due to have dinner together later Tuesday.
"The secretary and the foreign minister agreed on the importance of a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said later.
Turkish police Monday searched the consulate for the first time since the disappearance of Khashoggi, a Saudi national and US resident who had become increasingly critical of Prince Mohammed.
Turkish officials have said they believe he was killed -- a claim Saudi Arabia has denied -- with the controversy dealing a huge blow to the prince's efforts to showcase a reform drive and burnish the kingdom's image.
US media reported on Monday that the oil-rich kingdom is considering an admission that Khashoggi died after an interrogation that went wrong during an intended abduction.
The UN human rights chief called Tuesday for the lifting of the immunity of officials who might be involved in Khashoggi's disappearance.
Due to the seriousness of the case "I believe the inviolability or immunity of the relevant premises and officials... should be waived immediately," Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
The investigators, who searched the premises for eight hours into Tuesday morning, took samples with them, including soil from the consulate garden, one official at the scene said.
Istanbul police are now also planning to search the nearby consul's residence, a diplomatic source said.
Trump's comments came after a telephone conversation with King Salman, father of the crown prince, the first such talks since the crisis erupted.
"Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened 'to our Saudi Arabian citizen'," Trump tweeted.
"The denial was very, very strong," Trump told reporters. "It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?"
But CNN cited two sources as saying the Saudis are preparing a report that his death resulted from a botched interrogation, while the Wall Street Journal said the kingdom was weighing whether to say that rogue operatives killed Khashoggi by mistake.
After his crunch talks in Riyadh Tuesday, Pompeo was expected in Turkey on Wednesday to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.