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Khashoggi Case: Retracing The Narratives


The CIA reportedly now believes Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's crown prince, personally ordered the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But both the White House and the State Department are taking a more cautious approach, saying there is not yet a final conclusion on the journalist's death. The Saudis insist the murder was a rogue operation. For more, we turn now to NPR's Deborah Amos. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Deb, the CIA assessment has been widely reported. What is the basis for that analysis?

AMOS: So the news outlets that put this out all include the same source details - that the assessment was based in part on two phone calls, one from the crown prince's brother, who is the ambassador to Washington. He allegedly called Khashoggi and told him it was safe to go to the consulate in Istanbul. Now, Prince Khalid, who's back in Riyadh, has pushed back on this on Twitter. He said he never made that call. There's a second call that was intercepted at the consulate. And this is after Khashoggi was dead. And one of the 15 members of the team called back to Riyadh, saying, tell your boss the deed is done. And depending how you translate that Arabic, the CIA assessment is that the boss is the crown prince.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The White House is not on board with this latest assessment quite yet, considering the State Department reactions and the president's comments. Does that leave room for a different conclusion?

AMOS: Well, you know, the calls and the other intelligence gathered over this case - it's all circumstantial. There isn't a smoking gun that explicitly ties the crown prince to the murder. So the reported conclusion comes from analysis that some - nothing happens in the kingdom without orders from the top. The Saudis explained that this was a rogue operation. But a lot of intelligence analysts say that doesn't make sense. And the BBC's security correspondent has reported the CIA assessment matches those in other Western capitals, including London. The president has refused to directly blame the crown prince. He is a close ally of Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. And he's also the linchpin of the administration's Middle East policy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's interesting - right? - because this puts the president in a difficult position. Congress is pushing back for a stronger response. There was a vote on the Magnitsky Act that triggers sanctions for the perpetrators of human rights abuses. There are also calls in Congress to limit arms sales to the kingdom. So does the pressure increase after these midterm elections?

AMOS: You're already seeing it now. So there is a nomination for an ambassador to Saudi Arabia. That position has not been filled since the administration began. It's retired General John Abizaid. He's a former commander of CENTCOM. He's an Arabic speaker. He's got a great resume in the region. You know, that vacuum allowed Kushner to assume a direct relationship with the crown prince. So Abizaid's confirmation is likely to include questions about arms sales, the investigation, the war on Yemen that was initiated by the crown prince in 2007. This is a war that has become a disaster - humanitarian. Congress wants it to stop. Administration officials have asked for a ceasefire within 30 days.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Deb Amos. Thank you so much.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deb Amos