Trump vows ‘severe punishment’ if Saudis behind Khashoggi disappearance

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Washington, Oct 13 :  US President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia could be behind the disappearance of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi and warned Washington would inflict “severe punishment” if that is the case.

“We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment,” Trump told CBS’s “60 Minutes” program, according to an extract of an interview that was released on Saturday.

“As of this moment, they deny it and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes,” Trump said in the interview, which was conducted on Thursday.

The network said it will air the interview in full on Sunday evening.

Trump also said he would call Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on missing dissident journalist.

Trump’s remarks at a campaign event came amidst mounting pressure on him from Congressmen and the media as reports coming out of Turkey suggest that Khashoggi was brutally killed by Saudi officials inside their consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi, 59, a Washington Post contributor, had gone there to collect some papers for his marriage.

“I will be calling at some point King Salman. I’ll be speaking to him yes,” Trump said.

“We’re going to find out what happened with respect to the terrible situation in Turkey, having to do Saudi Arabia and the reporter. And nobody knows quite yet. Nobody has been able to put it all together. People are starting to form ideas. And as they’re formed, we’ll let you know. But it certainly is a terrible thing,” Trump said.

The President declined to indicate the nature of his conversation with the King.

“I can’t tell you but I will say that they’re looking very hard and fast and not only us, a lot of people are looking to find out because it is potentially a really, really terrible situation. So we’ll see what happens,” he said.

Meanwhile, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel wrote to Trump urging swift action in the disappearance of Khashoggi.

“Mr. President, we value our relations with Saudi Arabia. Yet murder and other blatant violations of international norms and agreements cannot be done with impunity,” they wrote.

Royce and Engel urged the president to use all pressure necessary to encourage greater Saudi cooperation in the investigation into this incident.

“Unless the Saudi government fully discloses what it knows about this disappearance and likely murder, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin should cancel plans to attend the upcoming ‘Davos in the Desert’ conference.

“Participation in this conference is not critical to our economic security and would potentially undermine efforts to show the Saudi government and others around the world that brazen attacks on civilians inside consular facilities are unacceptable,” the letter said.

Trump told reporters that a final determination has not been made yet.

“I guess a lot of people are going over to an investment conference. And he (Treasury Secretary) actually called this morning and he will make that determination. But he was partially over there anyway.

“We’ll see what happens. Maybe some won’t be going. We’ll make that determination very soon,” Trump said.

Nearly two dozen influential Democratic Senators, including Indian-origin Senator Kamala Harris, on Friday urged the Trump administration to reassert America’s moral leadership in protecting freedom of expression.

“Recent cases show that some foreign governments increasingly believe that silencing critics through violence and coercion is an acceptable practice for curbing dissent,” the Senators lead by Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth said in a letter to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

These governments, however, should recognise that the United States disagrees with their strong-arm tactics and will continue to be the loudest global voice advocating for the rights of those speaking out against corruption and repression. No one should get a free pass, said the letter.

“Although we lack a full understanding of the circumstances that led to his disappearance, media reports indicate that the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia might have played a role.

“According to press reports, Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi government, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey and may have been murdered while inside,” they said.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, thus far in 2018, 43 journalists have been killed.

Since 2017, as many as 267 journalists have been arrested and detained. Last week, the Chinese Communist Party detained Interpol President Meng Hongwei under suspecious circumstances and Chinese authorities have reportedly threatened his wife and family.

The Myanmar government recently convicted two Reuters journalists for reporting on the military’s role in the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.

“Last month, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a report condemning the government of Pakistan for cracking down on its press and calling for an end to ‘the disturbing trend of impunity and attacks on journalists to shore up this faltering pillar of democracy,” the Senators said.

In their letter, the Senators urged Pompeo that America must retain its moral high ground and continue working to protect individual freedoms around the world.

“We respectfully request that you evaluate how the US government can better bring to bear its full set of tools and resources to more forcefully oppose authoritarian efforts aimed at silencing critics around the world and brief us on your findings as soon as possible,” the Senators wrote.

“In fact, many are concerned that America’s inaction abroad, accompanied by President Trump’s caustic rhetoric toward America’s own press and those who disagree with him, are creating a permissive environment for those inclined to pursue repressive behaviour,” the letter said.

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