Turkish investigators are stepping up pressure on Riyadh over the killing of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan prepares to reveal key details about the case.
On Monday, CNN showed footage, leaked by Turkish investigators, of a man purported to be a double of Khashoggi wearing the journalist’s clothes leaving from a backdoor in the Saudi Istanbul consulate a few hours after Khashoggi entered the building on October 2.
Sources close to the investigation claim the double was part of a 15 member Saudi hit team that arrived and left the same day as Khashoggi’s killing.
Initially, Riyadh insisted Khashoggi left the consulate. On Friday that story changed with the Saudi government admitting he was accidentally killed in the consulate following a fight. Sunday, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said Khashoggi was murdered.
“By drip-feeding, the gory press details of Khashoggi’s murder, Turkey managed to keep interest alive and prevented a deal between Trump’s team and Mohammed bin Salman to hush the affair with little damage,” said analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners.
A Western diplomat speaking anonymously suggested Turkey’s Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan is orchestrating the leaks to the media, thereby dictating the narrative and direction of the unfolding crisis to Turkey’s advantage.
“President Erdogan will make a profit again, making points both nationally and internationally,” said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University.
Milking the crisis
Observers say Erdogan has been uncharacteristically restrained during the crisis, making few comments and not directly attacking Riyadh. That stance is set to change Tuesday, with the Turkish president promising to reveal what he calls the “naked truth” of the investigation.
“He is a political animal; he knows when to act instinctively,” Bagci said, “so he probably senses this is the right time to act.”
Ankara is starting to face growing international pressure to reveal its findings, especially numerous reports by anonymous sources of secret recordings of the last minutes of Khashoggi’s life.
Turkey’s Yeni Safak newspaper, which has close ties to the government, reported the recording of the torture, killing and dismembering of the body. Until now Erdogan has not commented on the existence of the recordings. But last week U.S. President Donald Trump called for the tapes.
Analysts suggest what Erdogan says Tuesday is likely to be dictated by the outcome of ongoing diplomatic talks.
“I don’t expect he [Erdogan] will break up his relations with Saudi Arabia. He will at the end have the same policy as Donald Trump,” Bagci said.
“Of course Saudi Arabia will have to pay” he added, “but I don’t know what. But Erdogan will use this situation for economic and political advantages for Turkey. They [Saudi Arabia Turkey] probably haven’t still agreed; they are still talking. I don’t know how the Saudi government can satisfy Turkish expectations — the president’s expectations.”
Turkey’s economy is facing recession after its currency collapsed this year.
Analysts warn the outcome of the talks could have far-reaching consequences.
“Riyadh will owe Turkey a favor, which shall be cashed in, in terms of investments, loans or probably a more pro-Turkey stance in Syria,” analyst Yesilada said.
“If Ankara wishes to shame Riyadh by releasing the evidence it claims to have, namely the grisly details of the journalist’s murder in the hands of a Saudi hit squad in the presence of the charge d’affaires to Istanbul, this affair could still spin out of control,” he said.
In a possible move to control the volatile diplomatic situation, Trump telephoned Erdogan on Monday.
“Erdogan and Trump agreed the Khashoggi case needs to be cleared up with all aspects.” wrote Turkey’s State Anadolu news agency.
Resetting US ties
“What we do not know yet is how Trump is planning to thank Erdogan for not escalating the Khashoggi crisis further,” wrote columnist Cansu Camlibel of Hurriyet Daily News.
“Whether or not Ankara will be granted generous waivers from the upcoming U.S. sanctions on Iran, which aims to cut oil and gas imports from Tehran, is definitely a crucial part of the negotiations.”
Washington is set to impose tough financial and economic sanctions on November 4 over Tehran’s nuclear energy program. Turkey relies heavily on oil and gas from its neighbor and is lobbying for dispensation from the sanctions, which previous Washington administrations granted when targeting Iran.
U.S. Turkish relations are strained for several reasons, which resulted in Washington hitting Ankara with economic sanctions in August, triggering a collapse in the currency. However, this month’s release of American pastor Andrew Brunson by a Turkish court, a key Trump demand, has improved relations.
Analysts suggest Erdogan’s goal of resetting U.S .relations could eventually facilitate a diplomatic way out for Riyadh.
“Turkey is trying to improve relations with America,” said Bagci, “Turkey has had enough of economic and diplomatic crisis with America.”