Twenty-one Saudis will have their US visas revoked or be made ineligible for American visas over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said yesterday.
The vast majority of the 21 have American visas, a State Department official said.
This is the toughest action by the US to date against its longtime ally Saudi Arabia.
Earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US has “identified at least some of the individuals” behind the death of the Washington Post opinion writer in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate.
“We are taking appropriate action, which includes revoking visas, entering visa lookouts and other measures,” Pompeo told reporters. Visa ‘lookouts’ mean that suspects would be marked as inadmissible when trying to enter the US.
“These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States. We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable,” Pompeo said. “We are making (it) very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence.”
The top US diplomat said the affected Saudis came from “the intelligence services, the royal court, the foreign ministry and other Saudi ministries”.
Pompeo said the US was also looking into whether to take action under a law named after Sergei Magnitsky, the anti-corruption accountant who died in Russian custody, that would impose financial sanctions on individuals behind Khashoggi’s death.
US lawmakers have been pressing President Donald Trump’s administration to take tough action, with several mentioning the Magnitsky Act.
The statements came on a day Trump said the Saudi authorities staged the “worst cover-up ever” in the killing of Khashoggi this month.
Asked by a reporter in the White House Oval Office how the Khashoggi killing could have happened, Trump said: “They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups.”
Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 has caused global outrage. Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, was a US resident and columnist for the Washington Post.
Yesterday, Trump said the Khashoggi matter was handled badly by Saudi officials. “Bad deal, should have never been thought of. Somebody really messed up. And they had the worst cover-up ever,” he said. “Because whoever thought of that idea, I think is in big trouble. And they should be in big trouble. Okay?”
Trump also said he would work with the US Congress to determine the American response to the Khashoggi matter.
“In terms of what we ultimately do, I’m going to leave it very much - in conjunction with me - up to Congress. And that means Congress, both Republicans and Democrats,” Trump said, adding that he would like a bipartisan recommendation.
Meanwhile, CIA director Gina Haspel, in Turkey to investigate the death of Khashoggi, has sought to hear a purported audio recording of his torture and murder, four sources familiar with her mission told Reuters yesterday.
Haspel flew to Turkey on Monday for what one source called a brief visit, three weeks after Khashoggi disappeared and days after Trump asked Turkey to share evidence it had collected.
Despite extensive news leaks alleging that Turkey has audio recordings documenting Khashoggi’s demise, neither the US nor allied government agencies had been granted access as of late Monday to such evidence, Western security officials said.
There are no plans for Haspel to travel to Saudi Arabia during her trip, sources familiar with the mission said.
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