After several weeks of coyly insisting that the Turkish investigation into Jamal Khashoggi’s murder would proceed carefully and fairly – and that Turkish authorities would withhold judgment until all the facts had been gathered, even as they actively undermined the Saudis with a stream of damaging leaks – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is finally turning the screws on the Saudis and, specifically, the kingdom’s young de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Earlier this week, Erdogan demanded in a speech that the Saudis share the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains, a request that was met with more of the bumbling stonewalling that has characterized the Saudi response to the scandal. Later, the Turkish head prosecutor officially requested that Saudi Arabia turn over the 18 Saudi nationals arrested by the Kingdom so that Turkey can charge them with “premeditated killing executed with fiendish sentiments or by causing torment,” according to Turkey’s Anadolu agency. All the while, Erdogan has maintained his facade of neutrality, once again cautioning that “there was no need to be hasty” about Turkey’s unveiling of the facts in the case. Even Mohammad bin Salman has praised Erdogan, insisting during his first public remarks since the killing that the relationship between Turkey and Saudi remained unassailable, despite rumor of a growing rift between the two leaders.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir
But as the Saudis dig in after changing their story once again to suggest that Khashoggi’s killing may have been premeditated (with the plot presumably organized and executed by the 15-member hit squad and their handlers, without the involvement or knowledge of the Crown Prince), the kingdom’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir lashed out at “Western hysteria” during a conference in Bahrain and insisted that Saudi would not turn over the suspects, and that they would be prosecuted in Saudi Arabia, according to the BBC.
“On the issue of extradition, the individuals are Saudi nationals. They’re detained in Saudi Arabia, and the investigation is in Saudi Arabia, and they will be prosecuted in Saudi Arabia,” Mr Jubeir told a security conference in Bahrain.
When it comes to the
patsies suspects, Saudi Arabia can do whatever it wants. There is no extradition treaty between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the bilateral relationship between the two has unraveled in recent years, particularly after Turkey expressed solidarity with Qatar during last year’s GCC crisis, reportedly drawing the ire of the Crown Prince. However, by refusing to turn them over, the kingdom is doing exactly what Erdogan wants: giving him even more ammunition to undermine Saudi credibility and cast aspersions about the Crown Prince and his involvement while maintaining his measured public facade.
This approach has yielded amazing results for Erdogan so far. After initially expressing its categorical support for the Saudis, the US has backed away from that stance and is instead demanding that Saudi Arabia provide a more complete explanation, even leaving open the possibility that senior officials – possibly including the Crown Prince – might need to answer for the killing. Erdogan’s reported conversations with King Salman suggest that he is quietly lobbying for the royal family to do more to rein in the Crown Prince’s power, as MbS’s war in Yemen has created problems for Turkey on multiple fronts. If the Crown Prince can be hamstrung, or even removed, Erdogan would only stand to benefit. Meanwhile, it could disrupt the US relationship with Saudi and possibly force the Trump administration to reluctantly embrace closer ties with Turkey – allowing Erdogan to kill two birds with one stone.
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