Turkey, Saudi leaders could meet for first time since Jamal Khashoggi murder

President Erdogan (left) could meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.
President Erdogan (left) could meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina next week, a spokesman said on Thursday (Nov 22), amid tensions over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

Such a meeting would be the first face-to-face encounter between Erdogan and the crown prince since the grisly killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month, which has tainted the image of the kingdom's de facto ruler.

"There could be" a meeting, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said.

"We're looking at the programme," Kalin said, according to state news agency Anadolu.

Seeking to rally support from Arab allies ahead of the summit, Prince Mohammed on Thursday embarked on a regional tour starting with the United Arab Emirates, his first official trip abroad since Khashoggi's murder tipped the kingdom into crisis.

The former court insider and Washington Post contributor was killed and dismembered in what Saudi Arabia said was a "rogue" operation, but CIA analysis leaked to the US media pointed the finger at Prince Mohammed.

Saudi Arabia has said that 21 people are in custody, with death penalties sought against five men, but attention remains focused on whether the crown prince ordered the murder despite the kingdom's denials.

The European Union on Thursday called for those "really responsible" to be held to account.

Calling for a "completely transparent and credible investigation", the EU's top diplomat Federica Mogherini said: "For us accountability does not mean revenge."

Erdogan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from "the highest levels" of the Saudi government but has stopped short of directly blaming Prince Mohammed.

Erdogan and the crown prince spoke for the first time on the phone on Oct 24 about the case, discussing the joint efforts needed to shed light on the murder.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has criticised Saudi officials over their lack of cooperation.


US President Donald Trump on Tuesday glossed over the CIA's reported conclusion that the crown prince had authorised the killing, saying Washington would not slacken its support for the kingdom.

Trump has admitted that the prince may have been behind the murder.

Prince Mohammed, meanwhile, set off on a visit to a "number of brotherly" Arab states at the request of his father, King Salman, the royal court said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, without naming the countries.

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed welcomed him on his first stop in the UAE, a close ally that is part of a Saudi-led coalition battling Iran-aligned Huthi rebels in Yemen, according to the Emirati state news agency WAM.

The prince is also set to travel to the Tunisian capital on Tuesday, a presidential source in Tunis told AFP.

"It's hard not to see this regional tour as a victory lap" after winning Trump's support, said Kristin Diwan, of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

"Travelling to friendly countries effectively compels them to demonstrate their support for the crown prince, and rallies regional support ahead of the G-20," Diwan told AFP.


The Saudi prosecutor last week absolved the crown prince of blame for the murder of Khashoggi, a US resident since 2017 who had written critical articles and once compared Prince Mohammed to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A spokesman for the Saudi public prosecutor said Khashoggi was drugged and his body dismembered, but Turkish officials say he was strangled. The whereabouts of the body remain unknown.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Wednesday said criticism of the crown prince is a "red line", and that calls for him to be held accountable for the murder would not be tolerated.

"In Saudi Arabia our leadership is a red line. The custodian of the two holy mosques (King Salman) and the crown prince are a red line," Jubeir told the BBC.

"And we will not tolerate any discussion of anything that is disparaging towards our monarch or our crown prince."

But keeping up the international pressure on Riyadh, Denmark on Thursday suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the murder, the second country to do so after Germany.

"I hope that the Danish decision can create additional momentum," Denmark's Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said.

Separately, the French foreign ministry said Thursday that it would impose sanctions against 18 Saudi citizens over Khashoggi's murder.

"These measures... aim to prohibit these individuals from entering national territory and the entire Schengen area" of Europe, the ministry said in a statement.