US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not discuss the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi when he met Saudi Arabia’s king on Monday, a senior State Department official told journalists travelling with him in the region on Monday.
“It did not” come up, the official said.
The official could not confirm if the case had been raised with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), whom Pompeo met later.
Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia to coordinate with allies over soaring tensions with Iran.
“We’ll be talking with them (Saudis and Emiratis) about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned and how we can build out a global coalition – a coalition not only throughout the Gulf states but in Asia and in Europe that understands this challenge and that is prepared to push back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror,” Pompeo said.
During Monday’s meeting, King Salman told Pompeo that he was a “dear friend”.
The US secretary of state later tweeted that he had a “productive meeting” with the king.
Pompeo said they also discussed the need to promote maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz, following attacks on oil tankers in Gulf waters which Washington and Riyadh blame on Iran. Tehran denies the charges.
On Monday, the US, UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE jointly called for “diplomatic solutions” to ease soaring tensions with Iran in a statement.
“We call on Iran to halt any further actions which threaten regional stability, and urge diplomatic solutions to de-escalate tensions,” the statement said.
Pompeo’s visit to Saudi Arabia comes less than a week after the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, accused Saudi Arabia of a “deliberate, premeditated execution” and said the crown prince should be investigated for it.
Khashoggi was killed in October 2018 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
It has been widely reported that the CIA has concluded that MBS ordered an operation to kill Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied the involvement of the crown prince.
In an interview broadcast on NBC on Sunday, US President Donald Trump said Khashoggi’s killing has been “heavily investigated”, but he declined to commit to ordering the FBI to investigate the murder.
The Trump administration has come under fire from the US Congress over its handling of the country’s relationship with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the murder of Khashoggi, as well as in the face of the mounting death toll in the Saudi-UAE war in Yemen.
Last year, the US Senate adopted a resolution naming MBS as “responsible“ for the murder.
The Senate has also passed a resolution that would block an emergency declaration by Trump that bypasses Congress to complete eight billion dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries.
The House of Representatives may vote on the resolution this week, but it is unclear whether there would be enough votes in Congress to override a likely Trump veto if the measure makes it to the president’s desk.
Coalition to protect Gulf shipping lanes
After his visit to Saudi Arabia, Pompeo headed to the United Arab Emirates.
A senior US official speaking reporters en route to Abu Dhabi elaborated on the possible coalition to protect Gulf shipping lanes.
The official said Pompeo and the US Navy is building a “Sentinel” programme for “proactive deterrence” in the Gulf. He said a coalition of nations would provide both material and financial contributions, but did not name the countries.
“What the Iranians are doing by shooting down American drones, shooting at other drones in the region, not even necessarily over the Gulf, anywhere, is to prevent us from having eyes on them,” the official said.
A second US official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters News Agency that the plan aimed to see US partners providing the majority of ships that would be positioned in intervals in the Gulf of Oman or the Strait of Hormuz, keeping watch.
“It’s not in operation [yet] but it’s something we’re looking at with our partners,” the official said, describing the concept.
Tehran has denied any involvement in the explosive blasts that have hit six vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, near the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s oil passes.
The US official said the deterrents include cameras, binoculars and ships, including from the US.