ANKARA, Turkey – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Turkey on Wednesday touting a Saudi promise to punish those responsible for the disappearance and suspected killing of a journalist at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, even as Turkish officials complained that Saudi Arabia was stalling their search of the buildings where he was last seen.
With his brief visit to Ankara to meet with the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Pompeo has touched down in the two countries most involved in the disappearance – and suspected killing – of Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote critically of the Saudi government he once served.
Pompeo pronounced his trip "incredibly successful" because of the Saudi commitment to a transparent investigation, even though he acknowledged that his discussions did not address the elemental issue of whether Khashoggi is alive or dead.
However, Cavusoglu appeared more wary of the Saudi pledges to find out what happened to Khashoggi. After his meeting with Pompeo, he took aim at the Saudi "approach" to the investigation in general, pointing to a "mocking" attitude when the consul general opened cupboards in front of a team from Reuters news agency "as if to say, 'See, he isn't here.'"
"Acting disrespectfully is not the correct approach," Cavusoglu said.
He told reporters that a search of the Saudi consul general's house had to be called off on Tuesday night because "the Saudis claimed that the family was inside."
Saudi officials have vehemently denied involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance two weeks ago, while Turkish officials have forged ahead with their own investigation. The Turks have said they suspect Saudis dispatched from Riyadh killed the self-exiled Khashoggi and dismembered his body within hours after he arrived at the consulate to get a legal document he needed to remarry.
Turkish investigators were finally allowed into the Saudi Consulate building to carry out a search nearly two weeks after Khashoggi disappeared.
They are also interested in searching the residence, around 500 yards away, as several diplomatic cars were seen leaving the consulate for the house about an hour after Khashoggi stepped through the consulate's doors. Security cameras on the surrounding streets did not see him leave by foot, Turkish officials say.
"I don't want to talk about any of the facts," Pompeo told reporters on the tarmac of a military airport in Riyadh just before departing, when asked whether Khashoggi had died or not. "They didn't want to, either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way. And I think that's a reasonable thing to do, to give them that opportunity, and then we'll all get to judge. We'll all get to evaluate the work that they do."
Turkey is still waiting for "consensus" from the Saudis to go in to the residence, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told Anadolu news agency.
He said that after the investigation is completed, the prosecutor's office and law enforcement will "meticulously present the results of the investigation," and "the whole world will be presented with what was what."
Pompeo has focused on the need to investigate and has generally avoided trying to determine what actually happened to Khashoggi on Oct. 2.
Before leaving Riyadh, Pompeo told reporters that Saudi officials pledged they would hold any wrongdoers accountable, no matter how high their positions.
"They promised accountability for each of those persons whom they determine as a result of their investigation deserves accountability," he said. Asked whether that includes members of the royal family, Pompeo added, "They made no exceptions to who they would hold accountable."
In the middle of a Tuesday night dinner with Pompeo, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke by phone with President Donald Trump, who promptly tweeted that the heir to the throne had denied any culpability.
The Saudis have maintained that Khashoggi got the document he sought and left the consulate, though the only video available shows him entering but not leaving the building. Last week, the Saudis requested a joint investigation with the Turks, whose own investigation has been proceeding swiftly.
However, Turkish officials have repeatedly accused Saudi Arabia of dragging its feet and only offering a facade of cooperation. Cleaners were seen entering the consulate building before Turkish investigators went in, and officials complained that the smell of "chemicals" was present, pointing to an attempted cleanup.
Pompeo said the investigation gives the Saudis the opportunity to prove they are telling the truth.
"They promised that they would achieve that," he said. "And I'm counting on it. They gave me their word. And we'll all get to see whether they deliver on that commitment."
The Trump administration has been pulled into the outcry over Khashoggi, in part because The Washington Post columnist lived in Virginia.
Trump, who has had business ties with Saudis, has alternated between vows to punish any Saudis proven to be involved, and reticence over imposing sanctions, as some members of Congress have demanded.
Pompeo said that in his talks Tuesday with Saudi leaders, he stressed the importance of an investigation whose results can be publicly aired. Asked whether he discussed potential ramifications if top Saudi officials are implicated, he said, "We talked about the importance of completing the investigation."
Though the Khashoggi case has dominated his talks so far, Pompeo has raised other issues on his last-minute trip. Those issues underscore the administration's reluctance to let the journalist's fate interfere too much with bilateral cooperation on other matters.