Donald Trump said US investigators are investigating how Jamal Khashoggi disappeared in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, while reports in the United States have implicated the powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in plans to kidnap the dissident journalist.
The president of the United States has suggested that, even if Riyadh was directly involved in the abduction or killing of Khashoggi, it would not affect the vast sales of American arms to Saudi Arabia.
But high-level Republicans said they were prepared to force the United States to take punitive action if Khashoggi was found murdered by the Saudi regime.
"We are very tough, and we have investigators over there and we are working with Turkey, and frankly we are working with Saudi Arabia, we want to find out what happened," Trump told Fox News on Thursday morning . The United States Department of State has made some previous questions about the FBI case.
Asked later Thursday if the US would cut arms sales if the Saudi government were held responsible for Khashoggi's disappearance, the president hesitated, saying the United States could lose its share of the huge arms market Saudis in Russia or China.
In the Oval Study Trump stressed that the disappearance occurred in Turkey and that Khashoggi was not a US citizen. Upon learning that the journalist was a permanent resident in the United States, the president said: "We do not even like it a little bit. But whether or not we should stop 1
The president's desire to protect arms sales and his family's close relationship with the Saudi monarchy could lead to a fight with the Republicans of the Congress, some of whom are already uncomfortable for the high budget of civilian victims of the Saudi air raid of Yemen, using bombs made by the United States.
The Republican president of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, one of the few senators informed about American intelligence on the case, said he believed Khashoggi had been murdered and that "intelligence is pointing directly "to the Saudi government. "I think they did and unfortunately I think he died, but they could certainly produce it and change the narrative," Corker told CNN.
The senator told MSNBC he had looked at the intelligence in a safe room in the Senate, and concluded, "It looks like he was murdered, and I think things will become much clearer in the next few days."
Corker and 21 other senators sent a formal letter to the president, unleashing a mandatory US investigation into Khashoggi's fate. According to the Global Magnitsky law on human rights, the administration should report on the conclusions of the investigation and a decision on sanctions against those responsible.
Bipartisan support for strong action is putting pressure on the Trump administration, which he is seeking to protect his close relationship with the Saudi monarchy.
On Thursday, a Turkish presidential aide, İbrahim Kalın, said there would be a joint Turkish-Saudi investigation in the Khashoggi case.
Turkish officials released a relentless drip feed of information about an alleged crime that broke diplomatic standards and rocked Ankara and Riyadh. A Washington Post report, citing US intelligence sources, said Bin Salman had previously authorized an operation to attract Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia and arrest him.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, challenged Saudi Arabia to provide CCTV images Khashoggi had left the consulate safely, indicating that he had not found the current Saudi explanations sufficient.
The British foreign secretary said that Saudi Arabia faced "serious consequences" if the suspicions of Turkish officials killed by Khashoggi turned out to be true.
"If these allegations are true, there will be serious consequences because our friendships and our partnerships are based on shared values," Jeremy Hunt told Agence France-Presse.
There are signs that the disappearance of Khashoggi can have a lasting impact on the global perceptions of the new Saudi leadership.
Turkey remains adamant that Khashoggi was killed shortly after entering the consulate last Tuesday by a team of 15 assassins who flew from Riyadh that day. Reports of his apparent death have been widely circulated by officials, who have released the names of Saudi citizens who have arrived on two private jets; all were connected to state security agencies.
Turkish officials told the Middle East Eye website that Khashoggi was introduced to the general consul's office when he entered the consulate, then quickly captured by two men. "We know when Jamal was killed, in which room he was killed and where the body was taken to be dismembered," the official said. "If the forensic team is licensed, it knows exactly where to go."
Riyadh had previously promised to allow Turkish officials to enter the consulate, which is considered Saudi sovereign territory under international conventions. However, access was revoked after the revelation of the names of the alleged murderers. Among the group, according to a passenger poster provided by the Turkish authorities, he was the head of science for the presidency of Saudi intelligence.
While investigators believe that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, the suspicion about where his body may have been disposed of continues to focus on the home of the Saudi general consul, about 500 meters away. The building has an underground garage, and the cars that have been seen leaving the building nearby are believed to have spent several hours in the garage before leaving for Istanbul Atatürk Airport.
Officials also told Reuters they were examining data from an Apple Watch that Khashoggi wore when he entered the building. The focus of the investigation is whether the smartwatch data could have been transmitted to a cloud, or his personal phone, which was with his girlfriend, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside.
Saudi officials had refused to engage with their Turkish counterparts until Tuesday, a source told the Guardian. Riyadh had used Washington as a channel. "They behaved very strangely," one official said. "It's like they do not care about the consequences, this incompetence or arrogance, we do not really know."
On his first international trip as president, Trump visited Saudi Arabia and announced $ 110bn of proposed arms sales.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin should represent the administration at a conference on trade and investment in Saudi Arabia next week, known as "Davos in the desert". His presence would be a powerful gesture of support for Riyadh in the face of accusations of premeditated murder by a US resident and journalist.
The United States has no ambassadors in Turkey or Saudi Arabia.