MANAMA (Reuters) – US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said that the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi undermined Middle Eastern stability and that Washington would take additional measures against those responsible.
But Mr Mattis also said US respect for the Saudi people was undiminished, while Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said those behind the killing would be prosecuted in the kingdom and that the investigation would take time.
US President Donald Trump has said he wants to get to the bottom of the case, while also highlighting Riyadh’s role as an ally against Tehran and Islamist militants, as well as a major purchaser of US arms.
“With our collective interests in peace and unwavering respect for human rights in mind, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in a diplomatic facility must concern us all greatly,” Mr Mattis told a conference in Bahrain.
“Failure of any one nation to adhere to international norms and the rule of law undermines regional stability at a time when it is needed most,” Mr Mattis said.
In his remarks at the Manama Dialogue security conference, Mr Mattis went through a list of what he described as disruptive Iranian behaviour – a message most Gulf allies will view positively since they share similar concerns about Iran’s increasing influence in Syria and Iraq.
While these were some of the sharpest comments Mr Mattis has made on the Mr Khashoggi killing, he also said the two countries still needed to collaborate on stability in the region.
Mr Jubeir, speaking at the same conference, said Riyadh’s relations with Washington were “ironclad” amid what he called “hysteria in the media” over Mr Khashoggi’s killing.
Mr Mattis said the presence in the Middle East of Russia – a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – could not be a replacement for the United States, whose “long-standing, enduring, and transparent” commitment to the region he reiterated.
He said that it was important to end a 16-month-old dispute between Qatar and four Arab states that analysts say has weakened regional coordination against Iran.
Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut off travel and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of backing their archrival, Iran, and supporting terrorism. Qatar denies the charges.
“The solving of internal debates among our GCC partners is vital for realising this vision. Without it, we weaken our security,” he said, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council nations.