WASHINGTON (AP) — Saudi Arabia is denying that the kingdom's crown prince had a role in the killing of a Washington Post columnist amid calls from members of Congress for U.S. sanctions on the kingdom.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir told reporters Friday in Washington that people should await the results of the trial of the suspects in the October killing of Jamal Khashoggi as well as the end of an ongoing investigation before drawing any conclusions about the case.
Al-Jubeir was meeting with members of Congress as some lawmakers seek to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of what they believe is involvement by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the slaying of Khashoggi, who wrote columns critical of the Saudi government while living in self-imposed exile in Virginia.
His meetings came as The New York Times reported Thursday that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted a 2017 conversation in which the crown prince told a top aide that he would use "a bullet" on Khashoggi if the columnist did not return home to Saudi Arabia.
Al-Jubeir dismissed the report along with the possibility that the crown prince, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, had any role in the death of Khashoggi, who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
"We know that the crown prince did not order this. We know that this was a rogue operation," he said. "We came out and we acknowledged it. It was committed by officials of the Saudi government acting outside their authority."
The killing, he said repeatedly, was a "terrible crime" and those responsible will be held accountable.
Khashoggi entered the consulate to get a document he needed for his upcoming marriage while his fiancee waited outside. He was never seen alive again.
After denying for several weeks that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate, Saudi Arabia indicted 11 people in the killing, including several officials close to the crown prince, and is seeking the death penalty against five of them.
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Prince Mohammed must have at least had knowledge of the plot, but President Donald Trump has avoided condemning a country that is central to his Middle East policy.
Nevertheless, the killing has strained relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. In Congress, criticism over the kingdom's handling of the war in Yemen had already been building for months.
Lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, introduced legislation Friday that would prohibit certain arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to the killing of Khashoggi and its role in Yemen.
It was introduced on the date that the Trump administration was supposed to inform Congress on its determination of whether the crown prince was personally responsible for the killing of Khashoggi.
Al-Jubeir said no U.S. lawmakers refused to meet with him and described the U.S.-Saudi relationship as unchanged, but he bristled at criticism of the country's leadership.
"Our leadership is a red line," he said. "Our leadership leads the country. I think for anyone to think they can dictate what we should do or what our leadership should do is preposterous."
Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.