WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has vowed "severe punishment" for Saudi Arabia if the United States determines that Saudi agents killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, calling the journalist's suspected murder "really terrible and disgusting".
In excerpts of a new interview released yesterday morning, Mr Trump said the incident is being investigated and that the Saudis deny any involvement, despite the mounting evidence that the Saudi regime was implicated in Mr Khashoggi's disappearance on Oct 2.
"Well, nobody knows yet, but we'll probably be able to find out," he said in the interview with Mr Lesley Stahl of CBS's 60 Minutes, which will air in full tonight.
"It's being investigated, it's being looked at very, very strongly. And we would be very upset and angry if that were the case. As of this moment, they deny it, and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes."
Mr Trump added: "We're going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment."
The Turkish authorities say a team of Saudis killed Mr Khashoggi, and US intelligence intercepts show Saudi officials discussing an operation to lure Mr Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia from his home in Virginia and detain him.
Mr Trump told Mr Stahl that Mr Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, spoke by phone with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who denied any involvement.
"They deny it," Mr Trump said. "They deny it every way you can imagine. In the not too distant future, I think we'll know an answer."
Mr Stahl asked Mr Trump about his options to retaliate against the Saudis, including possibly imposing economic sanctions against the oil-rich desert kingdom, as a bipartisan group of senators has proposed.
"Well, it depends on what the sanction is," Mr Trump replied. "I'll give you an example. They are ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it. We got it, and we got all of it, every bit of it."
Asked if he would cut off that order, he hesitated. "Well, I'll tell you what I don't want to do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, I don't want to hurt jobs. I don't want to lose an order like that. And you know what, there are other ways of punishing, to use a word that's a pretty harsh word, but it's true."
The President added: "There's a lot at stake. And maybe especially so because this man was a reporter. There's something - you'll be surprised to hear me say that - there's something really terrible and disgusting about that if that was the case, so we're going to have to see."
With the mystery over Mr Khashoggi's disappearance unresolved 12 days after he walked into the consulate and failed to reappear, a pro-government Turkish daily said the Saudi national had recorded his own interrogation inside the mission on an Apple Watch.
The latest claims reported by the pro-government Sabah daily said Mr Khashoggi had been wearing an Apple Watch when he entered the consulate, and that the device was synced with an iPhone left outside with his fiancee, Ms Hatice Cengiz.
It said the watch had recorded what happened inside the consulate and the recording was uploaded to his cloud, although the Saudis sought to partially delete it.
"The moments of Khashoggi's questioning, torture and killing were recorded on the Apple Watch," said Sabah.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu yesterday accused Saudi Arabia of having so far failed to cooperate in the probe into the disappearance and called on Riyadh to grant access to its consulate to Turkish investigators.
Meanwhile, a delegation of a dozen Saudi officials was in Turkey yesterday for talks and to take part in a working group on the disappearance of the journalist.
Separately, United Nations officials have expressed their concern to Saudi Arabia over the unexplained disappearance, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last Thursday.
WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE