Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir said that the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a “tremendous mistake” carried out by officers in a rogue operation that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was “not aware” of.
In the first interview by a Saudi official on record since Riyadh admitted on Saturday that the columnist was dead, Mr Al Jubeir told Fox News the kingdom did not have the full details about how the journalist was killed, nor where his body was.
“We don’t know, in terms of details, how. We don’t know where the body is,” he told the American news network.
Overnight Sunday, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called Khashoggi’s son, Salah, to express their “heartfelt condolences", the Saudi Press Agency said.
A Saudi Foreign Ministry statement on Saturday said Khashoggi died after an altercation at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he had entered to collect a divorce document but Riyadh was not yet fully aware of how the altercation happened.
“The crown prince is not aware of this operation, even the senior leadership of our intelligence service was not aware of this. This was ... a rogue operation,” said Mr Al Jubeir.
“This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the responsibilities they had and they made the mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate and they tried to cover up for it.”
He said such a cover-up was “unacceptable in any government” and the investigation into Khashoggi’s death would be the start of a long process. He said Saudi King Salman was determined to hold those responsible to account.
“These things unfortunately happen. We want to make sure that those who are responsible are punished and we want to make sure we have procedures in place to prevent it from happening again,” he said.
“We are determined to uncover every stone. We are determined to find out all the facts and we are determined to punish those who are responsible for this murder.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced yesterday he would give a parliamentary speech to address the death of the journalist. He promised to give the “naked truth” about the case.
Turkish media leaks have accused a team sent by Riyadh of dismembering Khashoggi’s body.
Addressing why a Saudi explanation about Khashoggi’s death took two weeks to surface, the Saudi foreign minister said “you want the information you put out to be as accurate as you can – these things take time and you want to be careful”.
He also gave condolences to Kashoggi’s family, saying that officials in Riyadh “feel their pain”.
The journalist has relatives living in Saudi Arabia and three children who hold US citizenship.
Despite international criticism about the killing, including from US President Donald Trump, Mr Al Jubeir said US-Saudi ties would “weather this”. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said yesterday it was too early to discuss sanctions against Saudi Arabia over the killing but said the explanation given by Riyadh was “not enough”.
His comments were the latest from the US government that appear aimed at censuring a killing denied by Riyadh at the highest level, while protecting relations with the world’s top oil exporter.
“It would be premature to comment on sanctions and premature to comment on really any issues until we get further down the investigation and get to the bottom of what occurred,” Mr Mnuchin said in Jerusalem.
On Saturday, Mr Trump said that he would speak to the crown prince “very soon”.
Mr Trump repeatedly said over the past week that he opposes any effort to impede more than $100 billion (Dh367.2bn) in US arms sales to Saudi Arabia but that he would consider sanctions against the kingdom.
On Friday, during a round table in Arizona, asked if he believed whether the Saudi explanation that Khashoggi was killed during a “fist fight” with more than a dozen agents was credible, he said: “I do. I do.”
But later, in an interview with The Washington Post, Mr Trump said: "Obviously there's been deception and there's been lies."
Saudi has said it would not respond to any sanctions by unleashing a 1973-style oil embargo on western consumers.
“There is no intention,” Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih told Russia’s TASS news agency when asked if there could be a repetition of the 1973 embargo.
Britain, Germany and France issued a joint statement condemning the killing, saying there is an “urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened”.
In a statement yesterday, the governments said attacks on journalists were unacceptable and “of utmost concern to our three nations”.
They said the hypotheses proposed so far in the Saudi investigation needed to be backed by facts to be considered credible.
They stressed that more efforts were needed to establish the truth, and that they would reserve judgment until they received further explanation.