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Pompeo to pressure Saudis for answers in Khashoggi murder

14 January 2019

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Saudi Arabia for talks on a range of Mideast crises topped by the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, threats from Iran and the Saudi response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi a year ago.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that he will ask Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded was behind the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, to ensure the murderers of the journalist are held "accountable".

"On #Yemen, agreed on need for continued de-escalation and adherence to Sweden agreements, especially cease-fire and redeployment in #Hudaydah", the USA embassy in Riyadh tweeted on Monday after a meeting between Pompeo and Prince Mohammed.

Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs H E Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani also said his country's relationship with America "has enabled us to confront so many regional and global challenges".

During Pompeo's previous visit to Riyadh at the height of the Khashoggi affair, his broad smiles with the crown prince had outraged some Americans.

Pompeo is later expected to head to Riyadh, where all eyes will be on a possible meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor, was murdered on October 2 in what Saudi Arabia called a "rogue" operation, tipping the kingdom into one of its worst diplomatic crises and subsequently straining ties between Riyadh and Washington.

Pompeo's visit came as human rights groups have been calling on Saudi Arabia to provide independent global monitors access to detained female prisoners amid mounting reports of torture and sexual harassment in Saudi prisons.

However, President Trump has said Washington wants to preserve the alliance with the kingdom, although the US Senate has clearly blamed Prince Mohammed for the murder.

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Pompeo refused on Sunday to comment on reports Washington had recently considered military action against Tehran.

Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a diplomatic and trade boycott of Qatar in the summer of 2017, accusing the Gulf state of supporting terrorism, an allegation which Doha denies.

Qatar - also a United States ally - denies the allegations and accuses the countries of seeking regime change.

"We are all more powerful when we are working together and disputes are limited", he said at a news conference in the Qatari capital. "Disputes between countries that have a shared objective are never helpful".

The US and Qatar held the second "strategic dialogue" between the two countries on Sunday, and signed agreements on defence, education and culture.

"(It's) not at all clear that the rift is any closer to being resolved today than it was yesterday", he said. "And I regret that".

Pompeo later told reporters that he had also raised the rift with officials in Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE.

The United States, which at first appeared to back the boycott of Qatar, has so far been unsuccessful in trying to end the dispute.

"The departure of Mr. Zinni in no way reflects any change in America's Middle East efforts, our strategy or our ongoing commitment to the region", Pompeo said.

Pompeo to pressure Saudis for answers in Khashoggi murder