WASHINGTON: Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir acknowledged on Sunday that killing Jamal Khashoggi was a “grave mistake” while US President Donald Trump conceded that the Saudi explanation of the journalist’s death was “all over the place”.

The foreign minister, however, blamed his country’s “rogue agents” for Mr Khashoggi’s murder while Mr Trump praised Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman as a “strong person” with “very good control”.

In an interview to Fox News, Mr Jubeir said the individuals who killed the journalist “did this outside the scope of their authority”, hinting that neither was the Saudi state involved in this act nor was the Crown Prince aware about it.

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made, and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to cover up. That is unacceptable in any government,” he said.

Mr Jubeir said that Saudi Arabia was conducting its own investigation and those responsible would be punished. “We are determined to uncover every stone. We are determined to find out all the facts. And we are determined to punish those who are responsible for this murder,” he said.

His comments came a day after President Trump changed his own description of the previous explanation from “credible” to “all over the place”.

In a statement issued almost three weeks after the murder, the Saudi government said Mr Khashoggi was killed in a fistfight at its consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2. Until now Saudi authorities had insisted that the journalist had left the consulate alive.

On Saturday, they further twisted their story, telling the Reuters news agency that Mr Khashoggi might have been choked to death by his interrogators who were trying to force him to surrender and return to Saudi Arabia.

Mr Khashoggi, once a confidante of the royal family, moved to the United States last year and regularly criticised Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the articles and blogs he wrote for Washington Post. He had gone to the consulate to collect documents for marrying his Turkish fiancee.

Discrepancies in Saudi statements forced President Trump, an admirer of the Crown Prince, to publicly acknowledge that Riyadh’s story was not credible, as he had earlier said.

In an interview with the Washington Post, published on Saturday evening, Mr Trump also admitted that “obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies” in Saudi versions of the murder story.

When asked what he thought about various versions of the Saudi story, he said: “Their stories are all over the place.”

However, President Trump praised the Crown Prince as a person who can keep things under check, adding “I mean that in a positive way”. He said the prince “truly loves his country”, and he hadn’t “heard either way” whether the Crown Prince was responsible for Mr Khashoggi’s killing.

Foreign Minister Jubeir said Riyadh was looking at the issue very cautiously and therefore it would be wrong to expect an early conclusion of their investigation. “These things take time,” he told Fox News.

Agencies add: “I am not satisfied until we find the answer. But it was a big first step, it was a good first step. But I want to get to the answer,” US President Donald Trump told reporters this weekend, when asked about the Saudi investigation and Riyadh’s subsequent firing of Saudi officials over the incident.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Trump said that “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies”.

A leading Republican US senator said he believed the crown prince was behind the killing, adding that the Saudis had lost all credibility in their explanations of his death.

“Yes, I think he did it,” Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview with CNN.

Turkey vows to reveal ‘necessary details’

In a speech on Sunday, Erdogan appeared to suggest that he was getting ready to release some information about the Turkish investigation, and would do so at his weekly speech to members of his ruling AK Party in parliament.

He has remained largely silent on the case, although Turkey’s pro-government newspapers have released information detailing a 15-member team that purportedly arrived in Istanbul to confront Khashoggi at the consulate.

“I will make my statements about this issue on Tuesday at the party group meeting,” Erdogan said.

“Why 15 people came... why 18 people were detained ... These things have to be told in detail,” he said, referring to Riyadh’s announcement on Saturday that 18 people had been arrested in connection with the incident.

Pakistan welcomes contacts

In Islamabad, a Foreign Office spokesman said in a statement Pakistan welcomed contacts between Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and their desire to continue working together to address the Jamal Khashoggi issue.

“We welcome the steps taken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Turkey to address this issue”, the spokesman said.

Disclosing facts to the public and bringing those responsible to justice was important in that regard, the spokesman added.

Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2018