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Turkey's Role In The Khashoggi Case

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Despite last night's revelations, there are still many, many questions about this whole episode, including what possible goal the Saudis could have had and Turkey's role in all of this. Turkey has been a key source of both leaked and public information. But, as our next guest points out, that country's human rights record is no better than Saudi Arabia's. We wanted to hear more about all of this, so we called Anthony Cordesman. He's with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's written widely and consulted with both the State Department and the Defense Department, and he's with us now from Washington, D.C.

Mr. Cordesman, thanks so much for talking with us.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: A pleasure.

MARTIN: You pointed out that Turkey's human rights record is no different - or no better, really - than Saudi Arabia's when it comes to suppressing dissent, suppressing media criticism. So, first of all, is it fair to assume that the details that we've been getting so far from the Turkish media and other sources came with the approval of the Turkish government? If that's the case, what's Turkey's role in this? What's their agenda in this?

CORDESMAN: Well, I think it's hard to be precise. But Turkey is actively competing with Saudi Arabia for influence in the Middle East, in the Arab world. So what we're looking at is a country that has every reason to try to sort of reduce the Saudi profile and influence in the region, and that includes ties to the United States because Turkey's relations with the U.S. have become increasingly bad because of the authoritarian shift under Erdogan.

In the State Department Country Reports on Human Rights, they're discouraging for the whole region. You have three countries with something approaching a decent record - Jordan in particular, but Morocco and Tunisia as well. What Saudi Arabia has been found, I think, to have been doing is almost standard operating procedure for virtually every country in the area. And certainly, if you look at the numbers for Turkey, it's arrested, detained and disappeared far more people in the last two years than Saudi Arabia.

MARTIN: So what are some of the priorities that you think that the media and the public should be thinking about as this story continues to unfold?

CORDESMAN: One of the key messages here is that the United States really has to stand for human rights. That doesn't mean breaking relations, ending economic ties, ignoring our security interests. But I think it does mean that both the media and analysts and governments in the United States and the West really need to pick up on this incident and make it clear to everyone in the area that this kind of operation is going to get a government and the officials involved into very deep international trouble.

MARTIN: Do you see any indication that this administration or leaders in Congress are inclined to send that message?

CORDESMAN: I think that one has to be very careful. Right now, relations are so bad in some ways on the partisan level that people have ignored what President Trump has said and that he has identified this as an unacceptable incident. I think it's certainly clear already that members of Congress from both parties have singled this out as a key issue, one where arms transfers, ties to Saudi Arabia could be seriously affected. And it's clear that there might be some kind of actual limits to arms transfers to Saudi Arabia.

But I think the problem here is that there is a reason why we're showing restraint. This is the largest oil exporter in the world. It affects the security, stability and growth of the global economy. It is a key power in terms of dealing with Iran. And the problem is not to sever relations. It is to reshape them in ways where it is clear on both sides that the expectations that I think are normal in the international community have to be applied in Saudi Arabia as well.

MARTIN: That's Anthony Cordesman. He's with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's a former national security assistant to Senator John McCain. He's written many, many books about the Middle East, and he's consulted with both the State Department and the Defense Department.

Mr. Cordesman, thank you so much for talking to us once again.

CORDESMAN: A pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.