Istanbul: Turkey and the United States on Thursday ratcheted up the pressure on Saudi Arabia to explain how a journalist vanished after entering its Istanbul consulate last week, with US lawmakers warning that military ties were at risk.
President Donald Trump became more forceful in his call for answers from Saudi Arabia but he also rebuffed calls from the US Congress to show more resolve, saying he would not jeopardise arms sales to the close ally.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national whose articles have criticised Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has not been seen since October 2 when he went to the consulate in Istanbul to obtain official documents for his upcoming marriage.
Turkish officials have said he was killed — reportedly by a 15-man “assassination team” that arrived on two planes — but Riyadh insists that he left the consulate safely.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in his most extensive remarks on Khashoggi, challenged Saudi Arabia to provide CCTV images to back up its account.
“Is it possible there were no camera systems in a consulate, in an embassy?” he asked.
“If a bird flew, or a fly or a mosquito appeared, the systems would capture this; they (Saudi Arabia) have the most cutting-edge systems,” he was quoted as telling Turkish reporters.
The consulate said CCTV cameras were not working that day and dismissed the murder claims as “baseless”.
The Washington Post reported however that the Turkish government has told US officials it has audio and video recordings which show how Khashoggi was “interrogated, tortured and then murdered” inside the consulate before his body was dismembered.
AFP was unable to independently verify the report and US State Department officials weren’t immediately available for comment.
The case has come to threaten the strong relationship the Trump administration has built with Prince Mohammed, initially hailed by US supporters as a reformer who wants to turn the oil-rich conservative kingdom into a hub for innovation.
The two sides have worked together in confronting Iran despite growing concern over the prince’s campaign against dissidents, which critics say has revealed the true face of his rule.
Raising his tone a notch from Washington’s initial low-key response, Trump expressed determination to get to the bottom of the matter.
“We can’t let it happen. And we’re being very tough and we have investigators over there and we’re working with Turkey and frankly we’re working with Saudi Arabia,” Trump said in an interview with “Fox and Friends”.
However, a Turkish diplomatic source quoted by the state-run Anadolu news agency denied US investigators had been tasked on the case. Asked to elaborate, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert later said that the United States had offered help but declined further details. Trump, however, quickly tried to take a major means of US influence off the table — arms sales.
“That would not be acceptable,” Trump said in the Oval Office.
“They are spending USD 110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs.”
The Saudis will “take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else. I think there are other ways. If it turns out to be as bad as it might be, there are certainly other ways of handling the situation.”
But the US Congress, which enjoys wide oversight powers and can temporarily block arms sales, made clear that ties with Saudi Arabia were at risk. Cory Gardner, a senator from Trump’s Republican Party, told reporters that arms sales would be “a huge concern” if Saudi Arabia is found responsible.
“We can’t let even an ally believe that they have carte blanche to do anything they want,” added Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
23 killed as thunderstorms, dust storm lash Pakistan
Islamabad: Massive thunderstorms and a dust storm lashed Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh provinces, killing at least 23 people, injuring scores of others, according to media reports
Heavy rain and storm caused by a westerly wave uprooted electricity poles and trees in different parts of the country and also damaged properties on Monday.
Intermittent downpour in western, central and northern parts of the country for the past few days has rendered mud houses susceptible to the collapse, while land slide and flash floods in some areas have already made several roads dangerous for travel, Dawn reported.
Thunderstorm in Punjab province resulted in the collapse of several buildings, leaving at least nine persons, including two women, dead. Four deaths were reported in Khanewal district; three in Hasilpur area of Bahawalnagar district; and two Dunyapur tehsil of Lodhran district. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Chitral valley, a woman and two men died when the roof of their house collapsed and fell on them.
In Balochistan province, authorities declared emergency on Monday after torrential rains and flash flooding wreaked havoc and killed at least nine persons, including a child. Heavy rainfall in Quetta, Gwadar, Chagai, Harnai, Duki, Jewani, Jaffarabad, Kohlu, Sibi, Barkhan, Chaman and other districts of Balochistan caused flooding in nullahs and drains which severed land link in various parts of the province, the Express Tribune reported.
The low-lying areas had been submerged due to continuous rainfall in Kohlu and adjoining areas. In separate incidents related to the dust storm that hit Karachi, four persons, including two young girls died, an equal number of fishermen went missing and dozens of others suffered injuries, according to officials and rescue services.
Gusty winds also uprooted several trees, poles and signboards, broke windowpanes of some high-rise buildings and damaged the walls of schools and homes in Karachi.
Iran’s legislature labels US troops in Mideast as terrorist
TEHRAN: Iran’s lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill labelling US forces in the Middle East as terrorist, a day after the US terrorism designation for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard formally took effect, state TV reported.
Defence Minister Gen. Amir Hatami introduced the bill authorising the government to act firmly in response to “terrorist actions” by US forces. It demands authorities use “legal, political and diplomatic” measures to neutralise the American move, without elaborating.
The US move aims at “thwarting Iran’s influence,” and shows that America’s longstanding sanctions against Iran have become ineffective, Hatami told lawmakers.
During the debate, some hard-liner lawmakers had demanded listing the entire US army and security forces as terrorist.
The TV report said 204 lawmakers approved the bill, out of 207 present at the session in the 290-seat chamber. Two lawmakers voted against the bill and one abstained.
However, it remains unclear how the bill’s passage in parliament would affect the Gourd’s activities in the Persian Gulf, where the US Navy has in the past accused Iranian patrol boats of harassing American warships.
The Revolutionary Guard has forces and wields influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and is in charge of Iranian missiles that have US bases in their range.
The Guard’s designation the first-ever for an entire division of another government adds another layer of sanctions to the powerful paramilitary force and makes it a crime under US jurisdiction to provide it with material support.
US asks its citizens to reconsider travel plans to Pakistan
Washington: The US has advised its citizens to reconsider their travel to Pakistan due to terrorism and asked them not to travel to restive Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), identified as the most dangerous areas due to terror attacks.
While Pakistan in general has been placed in “Level Three” category in the latest travel advisory issued by the US , several parts of the country, including Balochistan, KPK province, PoK and India-Pakistan border, have been placed in the most dangerous “Level Four” category, in which US citizens are asked not to travel due to high risk areas.
“Due to risks to civil aviation operating within or near Pakistan, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) and/or a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR),” the State Department said in the travel advisory.
Asserting that terror groups continue plotting possible attacks in Pakistan, the State Department said that terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls, military installations, airports, universities, tourist locations, schools, hospitals, places of worship and government facilities.
“Terrorists have targeted US diplomats and diplomatic facilities in the past, and information suggests they continue to do so,” it said.
Terrorist attacks continue to happen across Pakistan, with most occurring in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Large-scale terrorist attacks have resulted in hundreds of casualties, it said.
“Do not travel to Balochistan province,” the State Department said, adding that active terrorist groups, an active separatist movement, sectarian conflicts and deadly terrorist attacks against civilians, government offices and security forces destabilise the province.
Similarly, in the PoK, it warned that militant groups are known to operate in the area and the threat of armed conflict between India and Pakistan remains. “Indian and Pakistani military forces periodically exchange gun and artillery fire across the Line of Control (LoC),” it said.
Noting that India and Pakistan maintain a strong military presence on both sides of the border, the travel advisory said the only official Pakistan-India border crossing point for persons who are not citizens of India or Pakistan is in the province of Punjab between Wagah and Attari.
“Do not travel to KPK province, which includes the former FATA,” the advisory said.
Active terrorist and insurgent groups routinely conduct attacks against civilians, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government offices, and security forces. “These groups historically have not discriminated between government officials and civilians. Assassination and kidnapping attempts are common, including the targeting of polio eradication teams,” it said.
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