US President on Tuesday ramped up his rhetoric against Saudi Arabia over the death of Jamal Khashoggi, as the U.S. took its first steps to punish the kingdom over the incident that has triggered global outrage.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump criticized the operation that led to the journalist’s death as the “worst cover-up ever” and said whoever is responsible “should be in big trouble.”
“They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly and the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups,” Trump said. “Very simple. Bad deal, should have never been thought of. Somebody really messed up.”
Asked later to clarify his comments, Trump said was condemning the entire Saudi operation and not just the cover-up.
“I’m saying they should have never thought about it,” he said. “Once they thought about it, everything else went wrong also. It should have never happened. It should have never been done … There should have never been an execution or a cover up.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced minutes after Trump’s initial remarks that the U.S. is revoking visas for some Saudi officials allegedly responsible for Khashoggi’s death. He said the U.S. is also weighing sanctions designed to target human-rights violators, a step that was requested by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“We have identified at least some of the individuals responsible, including those in the intelligence services, the royal court, the foreign ministry and other Saudi ministries who we suspect to have been involved in Mr. Khashoggi’s death,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “We are taking appropriate actions, which include revoking visas, entering visa lookouts and other measures.”
Pompeo did not immediately provide more information on the visa revocations, including how many have been taken away.
“These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States,” Pompeo said. “We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those responsible accountable. We’re making very clear the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence.”
The actions represent the first steps the U.S. has taken to penalize Saudi Arabia over the death of Khashoggi, who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
They come hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivered a forceful rejection of the Saudis’ shifting accounts of Khashoggi’s fate, saying the dissident journalist was murdered in a “brutal” preplanned operation directed by top Saudi officials.
Those remarks appeared to resonate with Trump, who is growing frustrated with Saudi Arabia as negative headlines continue to pour in about the Khashoggi plot.
“Nobody likes what happened,” Trump said of the reaction he has heard from foreign leaders.
At the same time, the president signaled there are limits to how far he is willing to go to punish Saudi Arabia, the country at the center of his administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
Trump said he will render a final judgment on who was responsible for Khashoggi’s death after CIA Director Gina Haspel and other U.S. officials return over the next few days from Turkey, where they were reviewing evidence in the case.