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Turkey Keeps Pressure On Trump To Respond To Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi


This weekend, Turkey's president said for the first time that he had given audiotapes of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to officials in a number of Western countries, including the U.S. Khashoggi was killed last month inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Turkish president's comment on Saturday keeps the pressure on the Trump administration to make Saudi Arabia face consequences for Khashoggi's death.

NPR's Jackie Northam has been following the case and joins us now. Hey, Jackie.


CHANG: So Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has hinted for a while now that there was this audio recording of Khashoggi's killing. Now he's publicly confirmed it. Do you think these audiotapes will impact the global response to what happened to Khashoggi?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, this tape is expected to be extremely disturbing with sounds of the final moments of Jamal Khashoggi's life. Turkish officials say he was strangled and then dismembered by a 15-man hit team from Saudi Arabia, so it was probably pretty gruesome. The Washington Post has reported CIA director Gina Haspel listened to the audio while she was on a trip to Istanbul last month, but the administration hasn't confirmed that. In fact, Ailsa, the only country that has confirmed it's listened to the audiotapes is Canada. Here is Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Paris this weekend.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Canada's intelligence agencies have been working very closely on this issue with the Turkish intelligence. Canada has been fully briefed up on what Turkey had to share.

NORTHAM: So, Ailsa, the audiotape is out there.

CHANG: Yeah. Are there any plans to make the tapes more broadly public?

NORTHAM: We don't know that. But you know, every week, Turkey seems to release more information about this killing, so perhaps somehow it could leak out. And certainly a broader access to it will put more pressure on the Trump administration to take tougher measures against Saudi Arabia.

CHANG: OK, so clearly Canada's been talking about these tapes. Is the Trump administration saying anything new at this point?

NORTHAM: There was a few things this weekend. You know, the administration has been sending mixed messages about whether senior Saudi officials were involved in this killing and what they will do if it's found out that's the case. This weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and reiterated that the U.S. will hold those responsible for Khashoggi's killing to account. But there was no mention in the State Department readout of that conversation anything about the audiotapes.

The administration says it is reviewing whether to sanction some Saudis believed to be involved in the killing. And President Trump has said he wants to wait until the Saudi authorities have finished up their investigation, and then he'll decide what to do. And he suggested that might happen as early as this week, so we could hear sometime soon. But you know, Ailsa, Trump is under a lot of pressure to do something. And there are growing bipartisan calls in Congress to, you know, suspend or cancel weapons deals to the kingdom...

CHANG: Right.

NORTHAM: ...Or cut back U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

CHANG: Yeah, and on that, the U.S. has decided to stop refueling Saudi aircraft carrying out airstrikes in Yemen. Was that some sort of response to Khashoggi's death?

NORTHAM: Possibly. The Khashoggi killing has put the Saudis on the defensive for sure. And the war in Yemen has been on the top of the list of what people are objecting to. The thing is the Saudis have been doing the majority of the refueling anyway, so this doesn't necessarily mean a lot. But it does come at a time when the Saudi-led coalition is attacking a key port in Yemen, and aid groups are warning that could cut off food to millions of people in Yemen. And the country's already on the verge of a famine, so there's growing urgency to stop the war.

CHANG: That's NPR's Jackie Northam. Thanks very much, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Ailsa. 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.