President Erdogan spoke at noon today at the Turkish parliament, after announcing yesterday that he would tell the “full naked truth” about the Khashoggi murder case.
Throughout his address, the Turkish strongman confirmed many of the suspicions that the international community has been raising since Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist, mysteriously disappeared. The US resident and columnist for the Washington Post was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Erdogan, even if mildly, kept the promise of saying “something different” from the narrative that Riyadh has been pushing forward since admitting on Friday that Khashoggi died “accidentally” in a “fist fight” inside the consulate.
“Khashoggi’s death is an international issue—and one that Turkey will pursue,” the Turkish president announced at the outset of his public address.
That the “gruesome murder” of Khashoggi took place inside the Saudi consulate, technically Saudi territory, should not keep the world from asking questions, Erdogan said.
“Why was the 15-man Saudi team in Turkey? On whose orders? Why was the consulate not opened to investigators immediately? Why were so many different statements given by the Saudis? Who is the local collaborator who disposed of Khashoggi’s body?” Erdogan asked. Saudi Arabia, he stressed, “must answer all these questions.”
Erdogan’s only demands? That Turkey lead the investigation into the build-up to the murder. He also sought the participation of other countries in the still unexposed larger plot at play to ensure that all “those involved are held accountable.”
During the two weeks that Saudi Arabia strenuously denied Khashoggi had been murdered inside the consulate, President Erdogan’s silence was conspicuous. Instead he chose to let the Turkish media pour out leaks that challenged Saudi Arabia’s numerous shaky claims.
After Saudi Arabia ditched its narrative and developments led to the de facto diplomatic ostracizing of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), Erdogan knew he had the world’s ears.
And so Erdogan finally took the stage to finally give ‘presidential’ validation to some of the stories that the Turkish press has clung to in the last two weeks.
Why so diplomatic?
For all the attention he elicited, however, President Erdogan fell somewhat short on the highest expectation of Middle East observers: Revealing the tape recordings of the murder.
When Erdogan said on Monday that he would deliver the “full naked truth” of the premeditated murder, many had hoped that the Turkish leader was referring to the alleged audio and video recordings of the murder that MIT, the Turkish National Intelligence Agency, claims to have.
Instead, Erdogan diplomatically withheld the most damning proof against Saudi Arabia’s claims of Crown Prince MBS’s innocence. At the same time, he clearly suggested that Khashoggi’s death was a political murder condoned and ordered by senior leadership in the House of Sauds.
Surprisingly—Erdogan’s animus against MBS is no secret—the Turkish leader refrained from naming names. He espoused a slightly brotherly tone when analysts had expected an accusatory and defying rhetoric.
“I do not doubt the sincerity of King Salman. That being said, an independent investigation needs to be carried out. This is a political killing,” he said.
The implication of Erdogan’s not naming MBS, many Middle East observers have said, is that the Turkish leader does have damning evidence against MBS, as consistently claimed by MIT agents. But, they suggest, President Erdogan is waiting for an opportune moment to unleash the tape recordings, or not, based on whether Turkey gets what it wants from Saudi Arabia and the US.
In an immediate analysis of the rationale behind President Erdogan’s unexpected diplomatic deference to the Saudi king, Martin Chulov, the Guardian’s Middle East correspondent, said: “Erdogan clearly calculated that it did not suit him, or Turkey, to release the audio of the killing, and apparent video – both of which multiple sources have confirmed that his officials indeed have.”
Chulov continued, “His decision to return the onus to Saudi Arabia was interesting, and unexpected. After exerting extreme pressure on the kingdom through more than a fortnight of piecemeal leaks, he opted out of a coup de grace when he had the world’s attention.”
Three weeks after Khashoggi’s death, the question is no longer: Did the Saudis kill Khashoggi? Saudi Arabia has admitted it.
Instead, as the dissident Saudi journalist’s murder has now turned into Middle Eastern politicking, the real question, some analysts have suggested, should be: What does Turkey hope to get from the Saudi leadership’s successive strategic blunders?