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Pompeo Meets With Crown Prince While In Saudi Arabia


So did the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi change the U.S.-Saudi relationship? The Trump administration has been under pressure to hold the Saudi government accountable. And this morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman This comes as Pompeo continues a weeklong swing through the Middle East, and NPR's Jackie Northam is here to catch us up. Hi, Jackie.


GREENE: So what was this meeting like?

NORTHAM: Well, it lasted about 45 minutes, and there were several issues that came up. The two men talked about conflicts in Syria and Yemen and the need to find a way to end the war there. Iran also came up. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are on the same page about trying to contain Iran. But yes, they also talked about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. He was killed at the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul last October. And Pompeo spoke to reporters afterwards about their talk, and this is what he had to say.


MIKE POMPEO: The Saudis are friends. And when friends have conversations, you tell them what your expectations are. And I think the Trump administration has made clear our expectation that all of those involved in the murder of Khashoggi will be held accountable.

GREENE: Well, a lot to unpack there - I mean, saying that accountability is important but also stressing the friendship between the two countries.


GREENE: And this is not the first time Pompeo has had a meeting with the crown prince since this journalist's death, right?

NORTHAM: No, that's right. Pompeo met with the crown prince about two weeks after Khashoggi was killed. And, you know, David, his death just caused outrage across the world. And there were demands from all corners for accountability. Pompeo was dispatched at that time to Riyadh to hear what the crown prince had to say about it because the finger of responsibility was pointing towards the crown prince. There was pictures of the two men smiling and shaking hands. And at the time, Pompeo said the crown prince categorically denied any involvement in Khashoggi's death. But here is Pompeo back in Riyadh asking for more details.

GREENE: You say the finger of responsibility. I mean, one (laughter) - one place pointing that finger is U.S. intelligence, right? I mean, they've basically concluded that the crown prince was somehow involved in this death. So the issue is not going away at all.


GREENE: And doesn't that put more pressure on Pompeo to be tougher with Saudi Arabia?

NORTHAM: Well, yes. Indeed. And in fact, before he left, State Department officials had a backgrounder for reporters. And they were saying that, you know, the Saudis have to come up with what they call a credible narrative. They have to be shown to be more proactive in trying to, you know, decide who has done this, who caused Khashoggi's killing. So Pompeo probably did speak much more harshly than he did the first time around. But we don't - we're not privy to these conversations. The two men spoke by themselves for a little while. So we'll have to see. You know, there are 11 suspects on trial in Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi's death. And five of those face the death penalty, but there's a lot of anger. There's a lot of concern, you know, that people aren't being held accountable, meaning the crown prince himself. And so, you know, the U.S. has said, look it, even if they're having those legal processes under way now and these 11 are being tried, it doesn't really hit the threshold of credibility.

GREENE: We should say this meeting in Saudi Arabia - I mean, part of a much bigger trip that Secretary of State Pompeo is making, but he's cutting it a little short. Is that right? What's happening?

NORTHAM: Yeah, that's right. He was supposed to be going to Kuwait. It was supposed to be sort of the last leg of this weeklong swing through the Middle East, but they're heading back. He's heading back to the U.S. for a family funeral. That's why he's returning early.

GREENE: Oh, I see. OK. NPR's Jackie Northam, thanks so much.

NORTHAM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOR SONG, "GLASS & STONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.