Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Turkish official says evidence of murder found in Saudi Consulate

A high-level Turkish official says police have found “certain evidence” during their search of the Saudi Consulate showing that Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed there. The official did not provide details on the evidence that was recovered during the hourslong search at the diplomatic mission that ended early Tuesday. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation. Turkish officials say Saudi agents killed and dismembered the writer at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Saudi Arabia previously called the allegation “baseless,” but U.S. media reports suggest the Saudis may soon acknowledge Khashoggi was killed there, perhaps as part of a botched interrogation.



Newsline: US top diplomat sent to Saudi Arabia

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo smiled and shook hands during meetings in Riyadh with Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Khashoggi wrote critically about in The Washington Post while in self-imposed exile in America. Saudi officials have called Turkish allegations that Saudi agents killed Khashoggi “baseless,” but reports in U.S. media on Tuesday suggested the Saudis may acknowledge the writer was killed at the consulate, perhaps as part of a botched interrogation. Trump, who dispatched Pompeo to speak to the monarch over Khashoggi’s disappearance, said after talking with King Salman that the slaying could have been carried out by “rogue killers.” Trump provided no evidence, but that statement appeared to offer the U.S.-allied kingdom a possible path out of a global diplomatic firestorm. “The king firmly denied any knowledge of it,” Trump told reporters Monday. “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. I mean, who knows? We’re going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial.” Security forces began setting up barricades in front of the residence just hours after Consul Mohammed al-Otaibi flew out of the country on a 2 p.m. flight, state media reported. Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge the consul left the country, two weeks after Khashoggi disappeared at the diplomatic post he ran.


Newsline: Relocation of Australia’s embassy to Jerusalem discussed

The Liberal candidate for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, has said “he is open” to relocating Australia’s embassy to Jerusalem as the US has done, in contrast to the official policy of both the Liberals and Labor to leave it in Tel Aviv. As the battle in the Wentworth byelection enters its final week, the votes of the large Jewish community that lives in Wentworth could be crucial to whether the Liberals hold the seat. There are around 20,000 Jewish people in Wentworth, according to the 2016 census, making up 12.5% of the population.


Newsline: U.S. Embassy in Canberra apologises after cat picture mistakenly sent out

U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia has apologised on behalf of the Department of State who did just that, accidentally sending a test email featuring a photo of a cat dressed in a Cookie Monster costume. According to the Australian Associated Press, the photo was was titled “cat pajama-jam” and was sent within an email titled “meeting,” as part of a fake meeting invitation sent by the Department of State to recipients. It’s been described as a “training error,” and at least the U.S. Embassy saw the humour in it. “Sorry to disappoint those of you who were hoping to attend this ‘cat pajama-jam’ party, but such an event falls well outside our area of expertise,” U.S. Mission to Australia public affairs counsellor Gavin Sundwall wrote in a subsequent email two days later. “It was a training error made by one of our new staff testing out our email newsletter platform.”


Newsline: Death of American diplomat in Madagascar being investigated as homicide

A longtime U.S. diplomat found dead last month in his apartment near the American embassy in Madagascar was identified and now, federal authorities are investigating his death as a homicide. Newly unsealed court records unsealed show the FBI and U.S. State Department opened the investigation into the Sept. 22 death of Kevin Webb, a human resources officer assigned to the embassy in the capital of the Indian Ocean nation. The court filings revealed that authorities arrested a guest who accompanied Webb to his apartment the night of his death. Webb’s guest, a “foreign national” identified in court papers as Davidasoa Randrianotahiana, entered the residential compound through the front door and provided his name and identification to a guard. He was spotted trying to leave Webb’s apartment later that night by lowering himself down from a second-floor patio, according to an application for a search warrant filed in U.S. District Court in Washington. Once confronted, Randrianotahiana “admitted to the compound guard and a mobile patrol officer that he had fought with Mr. Webb in his apartment and that Mr. Webb had collapsed,” the court filings say. Randrianotahiana had blood on his shoes when he was taken into custody by authorities in Madagascar.


Newsline: Saudi Arabia, Turkey have no US ambassadors amid crisis

The disappearance of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi after visiting a Saudi consulate in Turkey has thrown the large number of diplomatic vacancies under President Donald Trump into the spotlight – notably in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It’s a gap the administration says it has been trying to fix but with limited success. Khashoggi’s case and the fact that there are no American ambassadors in either Ankara or Riyadh have prompted concerns about dozens of unfilled senior State Department positions almost two years into Trump’s presidency. And, those concerns have sparked an increasingly bitter battle with Congress over who is to blame. Aside from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Trump has yet to nominate candidates for ambassadorial posts in 20 nations, including Australia, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Singapore and Sweden. At the same time, 46 ambassadorial nominees are still awaiting Senate confirmation, prompting angry complaints from the administration and pushback from Democratic lawmakers. A number of ambassador positions to international organizations also remain unfilled as do 13 senior positions at the State Department headquarters, for which five have no nominee.


Newsline: Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi tortured, dismembered in Saudi consulate

Turkish officials have told the U.S. that they have proof that a missing Washington Post columnist was tortured, murdered and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month. Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance set off a firestorm of accusations, criticism and political tension after the Saudi national failed to return from a visit to the consulate on Oct. 2. Thursday’s revelation by the Post cited unnamed Turkish and U.S. officials, who said their information is based on surveillance tapes and covert audio recordings made without the knowledge of Saudi officials. The officials said they did not want to publicly release the recordings because they would divulge how the Turks spy on foreign nationals. “The voice recording from inside the embassy lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered,” the Post quotes one of the unnamed officials as saying. “You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic . . . You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.” Saudi officials have denied any wrongdoing in Khashoggi’s disappearance and claim that he left the consulate, where he had gone to obtain official documents before his upcoming wedding, shortly after his arrival.