State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday the sanctions imposed against 17 Saudis linked to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi will not be the Trump administration’s final word on the subject.
She lauded the statement from Saudi Arabia’s chief prosecutor as a “good first step” and a “step in the right direction,” implying the U.S. expects to hear more from the Saudis before the investigation is done.
A reporter at the Thursday press briefing asked Nauert if the Treasury sanctions were sufficient to express U.S. outrage over the murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and contributor to the Washington Post, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last month.
Nauert replied that her department rarely previews “sanctions or activities,” but promised, “this is not the last ou have heard from the U.S. government on this very issue, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.”
She noted the Saudis the United States listed for sanctions on Thursday “occupied positions in the royal court and at several ministries and offices of the Government of Saudi Arabia,” anticipating the follow-up question about whether the sanctions reached high enough into the Saudi government.
A reporter asked anyway: “But can you say that you’re satisfied that the – in terms of the seniority of officials that it stops where it stops and – or is it still an open question?”
Nauert responded by describing the Saudi prosecutor’s statement on Thursday as a “good first step” and sufficiently comprehensive as an “initial investigation finding.”
“It is important that those steps continue to be taken toward full accountability. We will continue to work diligently to ascertain the facts,” she said.
“[Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] has talked about the importance of gathering data from various sources. That’s something that the U.S. Government continues to do. That data will then help inform the decisions that we end up making and taking in the future, and that’s in part how we arrived in conjunction with Treasury at the Global Magnitsky sanctions of those Saudi individuals,” said Nauert.
Nauert later indicated Turkey is one of those “various sources” of information the United States is considering, which should put the Saudi government on notice since the Turks have been energetically skeptical of Saudi Arabia’s explanation for Khashoggi’s death. Turkish officials, all the way up to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have rejected the Saudi portrayal of the murder as a rogue operation conducted beneath the notice of the monarchy.
Nauert stated Washington did not coordinate the sanctions rollout with the Saudi government, which issued its preliminary investigative report on the same day Treasury released its statement. She added it was “no surprise that something of this sort was coming out and would be announced today,” implying it would not have come as a surprise to the Saudis either.
The State Department spokeswoman addressed a rumor swirling through the media on Thursday that exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, a longtime resident of Pennsylvania, might be extradited to Turkey in order to placate President Erdogan so he backs away from accusing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of masterminding the Khashoggi slaying.
“We have received multiple requests from the Turkish Government, at least over the time that I’ve been here, related to Mr. Gulen. We continue to evaluate the materials that the Turkish Government presents requesting his extradition,” Nauert said, alluding to Turkey’s years-long quest to extradite Gulen for allegedly plotting the failed 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan.
“This is wholly handled out of the Department of Justice, so I’d have to refer you to the Department of Justice for information on that, but I can tell you these issues are unrelated. I’ve seen some news reports where people are trying to conflate the two, Saudi Arabia and Turkey with Khashoggi and Gulen, and there is no relation,” she stated.
“Let me also add, because I’ve spoken to some of my White House colleagues about this, the White House has not been involved in any discussions related to the extradition of Fethullah Gulen,” said Nauert.
Turkish sources also denounced the Gulen-Khashoggi rumor. “At no point did Turkey offer to hold back on the Khashoggi investigation in return for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition. We have no intention to intervene in the Khashoggi investigation in return for any political or legal favor,” a senior Turkish official said on Friday.