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Pompeo to meet Saudi king over Khashoggi disappearance

The journalist went missing two weeks ago at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is set to meet King Salman in Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and alleged killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.

The meeting comes as a Turkish forensics team finished its search for evidence in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where Mr Khashoggi went missing two weeks ago.

Some reports have claimed that Saudi officials may concede the killing took place in the consulate.

Forensic officers treated the consulate as a crime scene during their lengthy search.

After speaking with King Salman, US president Donald Trump said that the alleged murder could have been carried out by “rogue killers” – offering the kingdom, a US ally and one of the world’s top oil producers, a possible path out of a global diplomatic firestorm.

However, what was left unsaid was the fact that any decision taken in the ultra-conservative kingdom rests solely with the ruling Al Saud family.

Noticeably absent from discussions was Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Mr Khashoggi wrote critically about for The Washington Post and whose rise to power prompted the writer to go into a self-imposed exile in the US.

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Forensic officers at work in the consulate (AP)

Ayham Kamel, the head of the Middle East and North Africa branch of political risk consultancy the Eurasia Group, said: “The effort behind the scenes is focused on avoiding a diplomatic crisis between the two countries and has succeeded in finding a pathway to deescalate tensions.

“Riyadh will have to provide some explanation of the journalist’s disappearance, but in a manner that distances the leadership from any claim that a decision was made at senior levels to assassinate the prominent journalist.”

CNN reported that the Saudis were going to admit the killing had occurred but deny the king or crown prince had ordered it — which does not match what analysts and experts know about the kingdom’s inner workings.

The New York Times reported that the Saudi royal court would suggest that an official within the kingdom’s intelligence services — a friend of Prince Mohammed — had carried out the killing.

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Mr Khashoggi disappeared two weeks ago (AP)

According to that reported claim, the crown prince had approved an interrogation or rendition of Mr Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, but the intelligence official had been too eager to prove himself, with tragic consequences.

Saudi officials have been in and out of the consulate since Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance on October 2. Under the Vienna Convention, diplomatic posts are technically foreign soil that must be protected and respected by host countries.

Earlier on Monday, a cleaning crew with mops, rubbish bags and what appeared to be bottles of bleach walked into the building past waiting journalists.

Turkey had wanted to search the consulate for days. Permission apparently came after a Sunday night call between King Salman and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In statements after the call, both praised the creation of a joint Saudi-Turkish probe into the matter.

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Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance has sparked a diplomatic firestorm (AP)

Mr Khashoggi has written extensively for the Post about Saudi Arabia, criticising its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists after the lifting of a driving ban for women.

Those policies are all seen as initiatives of Prince Mohammed, the son of King Salman, who is next in line to the throne.

Prince Mohammed has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. But Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance has led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of the upcoming investment conference in Riyadh, called the Future Investment Initiative.

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Reports have suggested that Saudi officials may concede that Mr Khashoggi was killed at the consulate (AP)

They include Virgin supremo Sir Richard Branson; the CEO of Uber, a company in which Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars; JPMorgan Chase & Co chief executive Jamie Dimon; and Ford executive chairman Bill Ford.

Mr Trump had previously warned of “severe punishment” for the kingdom if it was found to be involved in Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance.

The warning drew an angry response from Saudi Arabia, including a suggestion that Riyadh could wield its oil production as a weapon in retaliation.

The US president has been after King Salman and OPEC to boost production for weeks to drive down high crude oil prices, caused in part by the coming re-imposition of oil sanctions on Iran after the US withdrawal from that’s country’s nuclear deal with world powers.

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