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Foreign Policy

The Curious Case of Jamal Khashoggi

Oct 29, 2018
  • He Wenping

    Research Fellow, West Asia and Africa Studies Institute of the China Academy of Social Sciences

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Recently the world has been focusing the bizarre case of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who worked as a columnist for Washington Post and had been criticizing Saudi leadership before his sudden death.

Khashoggi's disappearance happened on October 2 when he went to his country's consulate in Istanbul to obtain a marriage document. The whole story later on turns out to be like the stories of Sherlock Holmes. With the gradual exposure of more and more evidence mainly released by the Turkish authorities about the brutal killing of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate, the Saudi government first denied and then reluctantly admitted to his death the Saudi consulate.

The whole process of finding out what happened to Khashoggi, who killed him, and what kind of response is required by other countries, particularly the US, has become a contest between national interest and moral principles. The killing of Saudi journalist Khashoggi has affected the image of the US, and relations between the US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

First of all, the image and moral reputation of the US has been damaged. The way that President Donald Trump has been handling the case is changeable and not based on principles of transparency and justice. Trump gave a strong indication from the beginning that he intended to believe what the Saudi Crown Prince told him about the case, preferring his strategic relations with Saudi above anything else. He chose the side of Saudi Arabia by saying that Saudi Prince will clarify the disappearance of Khashoggi soon. When Saudi Arabia mentioned that Khashoggi was killed in a fight with others inside the consulate, Trump said that he believed the Saudi story. But a short time later he changed his tone again and asked for the full truth. The reason for Trump’s changeable behavior is that he wants to keep the money he got from the weapon deals with Saudi which was worth up to $110 billion. And also Trump wants to continue his friendship with Saudi Arabia, which has been regarded as a strong counter to Iran. Even though Trump has punished Saudi Arabia after pressure from both Congress and international media, but the punishment is just symbolic – revoking the visas of 21 Saudi nationals, and the damage to the US’ reputation is already done.

Secondly, the death of Khashoggi also brings a difficult time for relations between the US and Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Salman had to admit the killing of Khashoggi inside Saudi consulate under strong pressure from the US. A lot of voices from the US are saying the Saudi crown prince should be replaced and even that the personal relationship between President Trump and the Saudi royal family needs to be clarified. The image that the crown prince tried to build about the new Saudi future during his last visit to the US has been tarnished, and the so called "Davos in the Desert" conference held by Saudi government also suffered from the absence of many important international figures including the US Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin. On the one hand, Trump, a businessman by nature, will certainly not give up the $110 billion arms contract which was inked during his last visit to Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the fact of brutal killing of Khashoggi and global resentment about the case pushed Trump to keep his distance. And meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is even threatening to come up with many measures including improving relations with Iran, moving towards Russia, and not guaranteeing the stability of oil prices.

Finally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to make full use of the death of Khashoggi to improve relations with the US, which got worse after the failed military coup in 2016 in Turkey and the US sanctions on Turkey in recent months. The relations between Turkey and the US improved after Turkey released its long jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson. Since it holds all the strong evidence of the killing of Khashoggi, it is impossible for the case to cool down without cooperation from Turkey. Furthermore, Turkey will continue to build its relations with the US through more mutual cooperation on the case.


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