Saudis call Jamal Khashoggi killing a huge mistake

Adel Al Jubeir urged Congress to take a step back and not impose sanctions over the ‘rogue operation’

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 4, 2019, Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir  answers journalist during an European Union-Leagues Arab States ministerial meeting in Brussels.  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was "not involved" in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and blaming him would be crossing "a red line," Adel al-Jubeir said on February 8, 2019. / AFP / JOHN THYS
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Saudi Arabia insisted Friday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did not authorise the killing of dissident Jamal Khashoggi and urged the US to take a step back from imposing sanctions over the “rogue operation”.

“There was no order given to conduct this operation,” minister of state for foreign affairs Adel Al Jubeir told reporters at the end of a visit to Washington on Friday. He said that the killing had been a “huge mistake”.

Mr Jubeir said he would not comment on stories without named attribution after the New York Times reported that Prince Mohammed threatened to use “a bullet” on Mr Khashoggi. “We know this was not authorised operation…it is a horrific crime and the whole country is outraged by this crime,” he said.

Mr Jubeir held talks in Congress on Friday to coincide with the 120-day deadline for President Donald Trump to decide whether to impose sanctions on Saudi government officials over the killing.

A bipartisan group of US senators sent a letter to the president in October calling for an investigation and a decision on sanctions under the global Magnitsky Human Rights Act. The law, enacted in 2012, is aimed at punishing senior officials for human rights violations and was inspired by the death of a whistleblower in Russia.

The Saudi minister urged Congress to wait for the investigation and the trial to be over in Saudi Arabia, instead of “putting the cart before the horse”.

CNN reported on Friday that the White House will not be taking action as required by Congressional deadline. “The President maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate,” a senior administration official told CNN.

“I wish Congress would take a step back,” Mr Jubeir said.

He declined to disclose the names of those standing trial in Saudi Arabia for the killing, but said sessions had been attended by representatives of the five members of the UN Security Council. “We expect that the court will issue a verdict, but I can’t tell you what [the verdict will be] when I am not a lawyer.”

He confirmed that Prince Mohammed’s former aide, Saud Al Qahtani, had been dismissed but said he did not know the whereabouts of another former aide Maher Mutreb. “I don’t know if he is still alive or that he is not alive,” he said.

In a wide-ranging press conference Mr Jubeir denied Saudi involvement in the leaking of sensitive information about Amazon chief Jeff Bezos and reiterated his support for UN envoy Martin Griffiths on Yemen.

Mr Jubeir also said that Syria was discussed in his meetings with European and American partners at the anti-ISIS conference.

Asked by The National if Riyadh would reopen its embassy in Syria, he said that the “reintegration of Syria has to be part of political process that unfolds - it is too early.”

Mr Jubeir also voiced slight optimism on the situation in Afghanistan following talks in Abu Dhabi between Taliban, Pakistan and the US.

He is expected to attend the Warsaw meeting in Poland next week where Middle East challenges including Iran, Yemen and the Peace Process will be discussed.