Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Monday gave his first major speech since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, expressing support for his son, the crown prince, and making no mention of allegations that the young royal ordered the killing.
The annual policy speech by the king instead highlighted Saudi Arabia’s priorities for the coming year, focusing on issues such as the war in Yemen, security for Palestinians, stability in the oil market, countering rival Iran and job creation for Saudis.
The king voiced support for his favored son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying that the 32-year-old heir to the throne is focused on developing the capabilities of Saudi youth. The prince oversees all major levers of power in the kingdom, ranging from security to the economy.
“The country is working tirelessly to create more jobs and training for Saudi youth,” King Salman said. “The crown prince, chairman of the Council of Economic Affairs and Development, has focused on developing human capabilities and preparing the new generation for future jobs.”
Saudi media reported Monday that the crown prince will attend the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires later this month. It would be the first trip abroad for the crown prince after the Oct. 2 slaying of Khashoggi, and would bring him face to face with world leaders from the U.S., Turkey, Canada and European countries that have strongly criticized the kingdom for the brutal killing.
King Salman delivered his remarks in the ornate hall of the consultative Shura Council before the country’s ministers, senior officials, military officers and clerics. Prince Mohammed was in attendance and seated next to the country’s top cleric.
In the wake of Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the 82-year-old monarch put Prince Mohammed in charge of overseeing the reorganization of intelligence services. The king’s speech made no reference to that, but he did commend Saudi Arabia’s judiciary and public prosecution for their work in seeking justice in accordance with Islamic law.
He said the kingdom “takes pride in the blessed efforts” of the judiciary and public prosecution, adding that Saudi Arabia affirms its commitment to the application of Islamic law.
On Thursday, Saudi prosecutors said they are seeking the death penalty against five men suspected of killing Khashoggi, who had written critically of the crown prince in columns for The Washington Post. The prosecutor’s announcement sought to quiet the global outcry over Khashoggi’s death and distance the killers and their operation from the crown prince.
U.S. intelligence officials, however, have concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing, according to a U.S. official familiar with the assessment. Others familiar with the case caution that while it’s likely that the crown prince was involved in the death, there continue to be questions about what role he played.
Saudi investigators say a high-ranking adviser to the crown prince, Saud al-Qahtani, and a senior intelligence official, Ahmed al-Assiri, concocted a plan to force Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia, deeming his presence abroad as a threat to national security.
Saudi prosecutors say the 15-man team sent to Istanbul exceeded their authority when the lead negotiator in the team decided to kill Khashoggi for refusing orders to return. The Saudis say the agents killed Khashoggi with tranquilizers and then dismembered his body, which has not been found.
Those findings came after Saudi authorities spent weeks denying Khashoggi had been killed in the embassy.
This past week, U.S. intelligence officials briefed members of the Senate and House intelligence committees on their conclusions, and the Treasury Department announced economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing. Among those sanctioned was al-Qahtani, who was fired from his post as the crown prince’s adviser after details of the killing emerged.
President Donald Trump has said his administration will get “a very full report,” including who was responsible for Khashoggi’s death, on Monday or Tuesday. Trump has criticized the Saudi response to the killing, but has been reluctant to say definitively if he thinks the crown prince ordered it.