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Turkey gets Saudi nod to search its embassy for clue into missing journalist

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Saudi Arabia has finally agreed to let Turkish investigators enter its consulate in Istanbul to undertake a full search for Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who disappeared on 2 October.

The kingdom agreed in principle on Friday to launch a joint investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance in conjunction with Turkish police, but a search of the consulate has been delayed by disagreements over the terms.

Turkish officers wanted to take in solvents to detect traces of blood, while the Saudis wanted a more limited search.

The Saudis say they have also  launched an internal investigation into the episode after an instruction from King Salman, father of the crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman.

Khashoggi has been missing since he entered the consulate a fortnight ago and is presumed to have been murdered. Leaks from the Turkish investigation suggest Khashoggi was interrogated by a Saudi team shortly before he died, with his body then dismembered either in the consulate or at the consul-general’s nearby residence.

A Saudi team that came to Turkey from Riyadh at the time of Khashoggi’s disappearance left hours after his presumed murder.

King Salman spoke to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on Sunday, and it is likely that this call ended the impasse. The foreign ministers of Germany, France and the UK, also on Sunday, demanded that Saudi Arabia allow a complete and full investigation.

Saudi Arabia has angrily rejected any suggestion it was involved in interrogating Khashoggi, who had visited the consulate on a planned trip in relation to his forthcoming marriage. It has offered no explanation for his disappearance or of any pictures of him leaving the consulate.

Khashoggi was a critic of the regime in effect led by the Bin Salman since his father appointed him crown prince in June 2017. There have been suggestions that Khashoggi was previously concerned he was about to be captured by the Saudi court.

Western diplomats have expressed private concern that Saudi Arabia could have used the lengthy interim since 2 October to remove any traces of Khashoggi’s interrogation by Saudi officials.

Many lurid accounts of Khashoggi’s alleged death have appeared in the Turkish press, based on apparent government sources, but ministers have been wary of repeating the claims in public.

Little has been said in public in detail about the terms of the joint investigation, its timetable, terms of reference or likelihood of findings being published. Equally, no detail has been given concerning the internal investigation.

The scope for Erdoğan and the Saudi royal family coming to a wider accommodation on other issues, such as the future of Syria, their mutual economies or oil prices in the context of the investigation are multiple.

The Turkish lira, under intense attack for months, strengthened on Monday, probably on news of a rapprochement between the US and Turkey, prompted by the Turkish court’s release of Richard Brunson, a US pastor held on suspicion of terrorism.

By contrast, the Saudi stock exchange was hit by severe losses on Sunday and a slide in the value of riyal.

In a sign of possible tactical tensions within the kingdom, Saudi officials threatened reprisals against any country that imposes sanctions on Riyadh. However, its embassy in Washington later tweeted its gratitude to the US for showing restraint and not jumping to conclusions.

Saudi Arabia has also been activating its diplomatic network of allies to issue statements in support of Riyadh.

Donald Trump has been Riyadh’s strongest ally over the past 18 months and the kingdom is aware it must do as little as possible to alienate either the White House or key senators in Congress.