U.S.'s Pompeo: Saudis assured me of accountability for Khashoggi murder

RIYADH, Jan 14 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that Saudi leaders assured him everyone responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi would be held accountable, as Riyadh tries to resolve its biggest political crisis in a generation.

Pompeo told reporters he had also raised a number of human rights issues with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including women's rights activists who have been detained for months and some allegedly tortured.

Khashoggi, a longtime royal insider who had become a critic of the crown prince, was killed in October in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate, prompting a global outcry including U.S. Treasury sanctions on 17 individuals and a Senate resolution blaming Prince Mohammed.

A CIA assessment has blamed the crown prince for ordering the killing, which Saudi officials deny. At least 21 Saudis are under investigation in the case, with five facing the death penalty. Five officials were also fired, including a senior royal advisor.

Related: Murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi 

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Murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: People hold posters of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: Members of the press report from in front of the entrance of the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi's Turkish fiancee Hatice (L) and her friend wait in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, on October 3, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: Security cameras are seen at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: People hold posters of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: A man passes through police barricades to enter the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Saudi officials gather outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 7, 2018. - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is following the developments on the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who has gone missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, to complete routine paperwork. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP) (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: Official cars are seen parked in front of the entrance of the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Turkish journalist Turan Kislakci head of the Turkish-Arab Media Association talks to the media outside of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 7, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. According to a Turkish unnamed government official the prominent Saudi journalist was murdered inside the Saudi mission in Istanbul after he went missing. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP) (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: An entrance sign is seen at the front of the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: The Saudi Arabia national flag is seen above the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: Members of the media film and report outside the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: People hold posters of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
A general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, on December 15, 2014. The pan-Arab satellite news broadcaster owned by billionaire Saudi businessman Alwaleed bin Talal will go on air February 1, promising to 'break the mould' in a crowded field.AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images)
A Saudi diplomatic vehicle leaves the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 3, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi's Turkish fiancee Hatice (L) and her friends wait in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, on October 3, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
An employee waists beside an entrance to Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on October 4, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
An employee of the consulate checks a diplomatic vehicle in front of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on October 4, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
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"They both acknowledged that accountability needed to take place. They talked about the process that is occurring inside their country, both the investigative process and the judicial process that is taking place," Pompeo said.

"They reiterated their commitment to achieve the objective, the expectations we set for them."

Pompeo last visited Riyadh two weeks after Khashoggi disappeared to press the key U.S. ally on the whereabouts of the Washington Post contributor, who disappeared after entering the consulate to obtain marriage documents.

The outcry over the murder has tarnished the reputation of Prince Mohammed, strained ties with Western allies and focused attention on Saudi Arabia's domestic crackdown on dissent and the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition is supporting the internationally-recognized government.

"Where friends think the other one has fallen short, I was very clear and candid about those things where America is not satisfied with and where they are not meeting our expectations," said Pompeo.

He said he had also raised the Gulf Arab dispute with Qatar after saying a day earlier in Qatar that it had gone on for too long and was threatening regional unity needed to counter Iran.

"We did talk about how we might put the Gulf rift back in a better place," he said. "I think they’d like to see that too. It’s a matter of us all figuring out how to do it together, but mostly those countries figuring out how they can put it back together."

 

WOMEN ACTIVISTS

On Yemen, Pompeo and Prince Mohammed agreed on the need for continued de-escalation and adherence to agreements made at talks last month to end the civil war between the government and Iranian-aligned Houthis.

"We talked about the fact that work done in Sweden on Yemen was good but we need both sides to honor those commitments. To date, the Iranian-backed Houthis have chosen not to do that," he said.

They also discussed U.S. plans to withdraw troops from Syria, which Pompeo told reporters would not be affected by President Donald Trump's threat to devastate Turkey economically if it attacks a Washington-backed Kurdish militia in Syria.

During meetings lasting 80 minutes total, Pompeo said he had raised human rights issues, including several women's rights activists detained last summer and accused of treason.

"Their commitment was that the lawful judicial process would take place and they would do so quickly, and that they would continue down that path," he said.

The sister of activist Loujain al-Hathloul has described how she was tortured and threatened, at times by the same royal adviser implicated in the Khashoggi murder.

Saudi authorities deny those charges, and Prince Mohammed has said they have recordings showing the activists were working with foreign intelligence agencies.

Dozens of other activists, intellectuals and clerics have also been arrested in an apparent bid to stamp out opposition to Prince Mohammed, who has consolidated power including with a sweeping anti-corruption campaign.

Pompeo, whose earlier stops included Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Doha, proceeded to Oman to meet Sultan Qaboos but will skip Kuwait to attend a family funeral, a spokesman said.

(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall and Alexander Cornwell, Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean)

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