Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered his promised remarks on the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi on Tuesday and it looks as though Ankara is still intent on keeping its cards close to the vest.
Erdogan’s remarks revealed nothing new and fell short of the dramatic reveal the Turkish President seemed to tease on Sunday. He also appeared content to avoid launching into a scathing rebuke of the monarchy – for now.
“Placing blame on a few security officials convinces no one,” Erdogan said, in remarks delivered at parliament in the Turkish capital.
“[Our] information and evidence shows Khashoggi was murdered savagely and there is a strong indication that the murder was a planned operation”, he continued, adding that “those who gave the order must account for it.”
Again, there’s nothing new there and Erdogan went on to say that he “has no doubt about the sincerity of King Salman”. That’s some semblance of conciliatory, but it also seems to hint that the sincerity of the Crown Prince is in question.
He did challenge Riyadh to produce the body and identify any “local collaborators”. To wit:
It is clear that this savage murder did not happen at the drop of a dime but was a planned affair, Why was the 15-man Saudi team in Istanbul on the day of the murder? On whose orders? We are seeking answers. Why was the consulate not opened to investigators immediately? When the murder was so clear, why were there so many different statements given by Saudis? Why has the body of someone, the killing of whom has been officially admitted, not been found? Who is the local collaborator who disposed of Khashoggi’s body? Saudi [Arabia] must answer all these questions.
Erdogan also said the 18 officials arrested in Saudi Arabia late last week should be tried in Istanbul – that’s far-fetched, to say the least.
Here are the relevant remarks from Erdogan’s hour-long speech:
If you’re inclined to believe that Turkey is in fact sitting on of the type of damning evidence they claim to possess, it could be that Erdogan is still attempting to leverage that evidence behind the scenes before revealing it to the public.
The bottom line appears to be that the Turkish autocrat is still hard at work trying to wring concessions out of the Saudis and, likely, out of Washington. Erdogan will likely push for Mohammed bin Salman to be replaced as de facto ruler of the Kingdom and that effort more than likely involves Ankara threatening to make all the evidence they have public if Erdogan doesn’t get at least some of what he wants.
Even if he can’t ultimately compel a royal shakeup, he now has more bargaining power vis-à-vis Syria and he might well be asking the Trump administration why exactly Washington continues to pressure Turkey (a NATO ally) with tariffs and sanction threats even after the release of Andrew Brunson while simultaneously maintaining cordial relations with Riyadh in the face of near universal condemnation from the international community.
It’s also possible Erdogan could parlay whatever information he’s sitting on about the Khashoggi murder into implicit financial guarantees from the Saudis should Turkey’s financial system come under pressure again from another leg weaker in the beleaguered lira.
In any event, Erdogan’s Tuesday speech suggests this soap opera is far from over.