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Khashoggi’s murder was indeed pre-meditated and botched-up. Did Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman send a package deal to President Erdogan to shield the Crown Prince from the Murder? We speak with Professor As`ad AbuKhalil

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is still preoccupying much of the airwaves this week. The question of whether the House of Saud, and mainly the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, is directly responsible for this brutal murder. Well, we may never know the answer to that question if the Saudis, the Turks and the U.S. start corroborating this story in a coordinated way to protect the prince if they deem it in their interests to do so. But at the moment, the objective of protecting the crown prince appears to be somewhat in disarray because here’s what Donald Trump had to say on Tuesday.

DONALD TRUMP: They had a very bad original concept, was carried out poorly and the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups. Bad deal, should’ve never been thought of, somebody really messed up and they had the worst cover-up ever. And where it should have stopped is at the deal standpoint when they thought about it, because whoever thought thought of that idea I think is in big trouble and they should be in big trouble.

SHARMINI PERIES: As many of you who follow this story know, Turkish authorities say that they have evidence that the murder of Khashoggi was premeditated. Much of this evidence has already been leaked to the press by Erdogan, since nothing in Turkey happens at this level without his consent. Now, as evidence we have been presented with a lot, which is the arrival of the interrogation team at the consulate before Khashoggi and then there was the body double that arrived two hours before Jamal Khashoggi arrived at the consulate. Then, we have footage of the body double actually leaving the consulate in Khashoggi’s clothes. And there is a bonesaw that also arrived or was brought to the consulate.

Now investigators say that the delegation that arrived to interrogate Khashoggi included senior advisor to the crown prince by the name of Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, named by the Turkish officials as one of the fifteen Saudi suspects. So, here are the comments about the case made by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on Tuesday.

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: Blaming some intelligence members for this matter will satisfy neither us nor the international community. The conscience of humanity will only be satisfied once everybody is called into account, from those who gave the orders to those who carried them out. If that’s the case, you are obligated to reveal this local cooperator. You will reveal him. Without these questions being answered, nobody should think the issue will be closed. I told the first delegation that came here about how inadequate the council general was, and I reiterated the same things to the king.

SHARMINI PERIES: Then, on Wednesday, Mohammad Bin Salman speaking on a panel in what is commonly being called these days as the Davos in the Desert. He was speaking on a panel with a man he abducted several months ago, which we will tell you about a little later. So, MBS has this to say.

MOHAMMAD BIN SALMAN: First of all, the crime was really painful to all Saudis and I believe it is painful to every human in the world. It is a heinous crime that cannot be justified. Today, Saudi Arabia is carrying out all legal things to finalize the investigations, to work with, cooperate with the Turkish government and to present to the perpetrators to the court and take their judgment. This is the expected thing that we’re going to do once they see a crime. Undoubtedly, the cooperation today between the Saudi and Turkish government is unique and we know that many are trying to use this painful thing to create, to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. I want to send them a message: They will not be able to do that as long as there is a king called King Salman Bin Abdulaziz and a Crown Prince called Muhammad Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.

SHARMINI PERIES: On to talk about all of this with me is As’ad Abukhalil. He is a professor of political science at California State University in Stanislaus. He is the author of Bin Laden, Islam & America’s New War on Terrorism, and the book The Battle for Saudi Arabia. He also runs a very popular blog with the name The Angry Arab News Service. As’ad, thank you so much for joining us.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Thank you for inviting me outside.

SHARMINI PERIES: As’ad, now today we learned that shortly after that statement by MBS of Saudi Arabia that President Erdogan and MBS spoke on the phone. Now, do we know what that conversation was about and what they discussed?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, while we do not know the content of the conversation, we can easily speculate given the signs that we have all over the media on both sides. As I alluded to in the last appearance of mine on your show, I think that there is clear political exploitation and manipulation going on by the Turkish government. On the one hand, there are a lot of leaks going on through the Turkish media. But on the other hand, the statements by Erdogan himself, who is ultimate Sultan of Turkey, have been rather restrained. And just a few days ago, while he promised to get to the full naked truth, we did not get the whole picture. If anything, he basically repeated what already was published before and he made a respectful reference to the government of Saudi Arabia.

He did not mention the crown prince, which basically flies against the speculation and the evidence presented to Turkish media that the Turkish government has evidence that this operation, undoubtedly – I mean, anybody who knows anything about Saudi Arabia will confirm – undoubtedly had the blessing and the command and the authority of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Now, the Crown Prince from earlier on, tried to appease the Turkish government, to ingratiate himself with them, even though there had been bitterness between the two sides. He sent one of the most senior advisers, and he has no advisers within the royal family except this one, the son of King Faisal, Prince Khalid al Faisal, who is one of the many benefactors in the royal family in the past of Khashoggi himself.

So, there was symbolism in the selection of this particular prince. He sent him to Turkey, and according to Turkish media, the prince brought with him a whole package deal of cover-up that would entail Saudi Arabia basically giving a whole lot of generous aid to Turkey, it entails the end to the siege of Qatar and a variety of political concessions in Syria and elsewhere that Turkey demanded from the Saudi government.

Now, the Turkish media said that Erdogan responded with utter dignity when he received that offer, but there were no signs of him being humiliated or offended by that offer in the speech he gave the other day. And today, we hear that he had a phone conversation, present by all accounts, with a man that the Turkish media have accused repeatedly of being responsible behind the scenes of this crime. So, I think that there is a cover up. The speeches and the statements going on, especially the polite reference to Erdogan by the Crown Prince today, indicate that we are not going to find the truth.

Having said that, the Americans are not bystanders in this. The Americans clearly are accomplices in whatever cover up is going to be reached, whatever deal is going to be struck. It’s going to be a tripartite deal entailing the United States, Turkey and the Saudi government that will aim at saving the throne for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the man who is the single responsible person behind this crime. Now, the notion that, basically, these henchmen who work at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman are responsible, flies against anybody who knows anything about the fundamental structure of government under this particular Crown Prince.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, As’ad. Now, it appears that Erdogan holds all the cards here, mainly the evidence, and he’s ready to use it against the crown prince. And MBS, on the other hand, seem very measured and diplomatic, wanting to talk, cooperate. There’s much at stake. So, what does Erdogan want from this grand bargain with the Prince?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: As far as he’s concerned, he can ask for the moon. And he can ask that from the United States as well as from the Saudis. I mean, both sides, the Trump administration, the Saudi royal family, I mean the ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, want to save whatever the outcome of this investigation and affair, whatever outcome that it will not be pinned on Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. We have to remember, this is no coincidence that only a few hours before Erdogan was supposed to give a speech, suddenly the U.S. government decided to send the head of the CIA to talk to the Turkish government. I mean, why wasn’t she sent before? I mean, this has been going on since October 2. Only now, a few hours before the speech. And then the speech came, totally failing all expectations, totally in contradiction with what Erdogan himself prepared the stage for regarding the content of the speech.

So, that tells me that Erdogan is extracting exorbitant prices from the United States and from the Saudi government. From Saudi Arabia, I said, he’s going to ask for a lot more than financial aid. He has to end the siege of Qatar, has to end the conflict with Qatar. He also perhaps wants to ask for normalization with the Muslim Brotherhood. With the United States he has a whole different story. He’s going to ask perhaps for full normalization with the Trump administration, for loosening rules for the transfer of arms to Turkey from the United States. A whole variety of package deals can be struck as well. I think we are now in the last stage of reaching a final end to this that will unfortunately be at the expense of the full truth or the naked truth, as Erdogan called it.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, I understand that Trump has dispatched and Gina Haspel, the CIA director, and claimed that US will also investigate. Now, we have the Turks investigating, the U.S. investigating and the Saudis have also sent a delegation to investigate. Now, what can we expect from all of this?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: It means all these investigations will converge together once a deal is going to be struck. I mean, first of all, Saudi investigation? This is like the criminal investigating himself, especially in a country like Saudi Arabia where there is no rule of law whatsoever and where judges answer to the prince. In the case of Turkey, again, because the statements have been inconsistent, we do not trust that it’s going to go in a linear direction. In the case of the United States, there’s also something suspicious. The statements of Donald Trump have been very inconsistent about the case. I mean, one day he promises sanctions, another day he reminds the American public yet again that there is a huge investment by Saudi Arabia and there’s a huge purchases of arms by the Saudi government in the United States.

And then, on another day, he says, “I’m going to leave the question of sanctions to Congress,” which is unusual for a president to defer to Congress on issues of national security and foreign policy. And that tells me that he may want to have the responsibility for it on Congress in case there are some sanctions that may be detrimental to Saudi interests. So, this is the area where I think it’s still being worked out between Congress and the administration. But in the last 24 hours, Trump has been at least determined to indicate that there was a huge, terrible cover up, that the Saudi official story does not fly and that there are going to be consequences. The question is, what kind of consequences will there be? I mean, that these culprits but not other culprits will be punished because they won’t have visas, they can’t come to Disney World or Disneyland anymore? That’s not going to be a heavy price to be paid unless it is going to affect the Crown Prince himself. And it’s unlikely it will.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, the Saudis themselves have said that they have arrested a number of people that is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. What is the fate of these people that have been arrested?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, we don’t know who was arrested. They said they arrested eighteen people, but their names were not released. And we have to remember that the two senior people in this group where we are told the botched operation was hatched, which is the deputy director of intelligence and the second one is the adviser to the royal court, those two seem to be out of jail. Saud al-Qahtani, this very close adviser to the Crown Prince, has been active on Twitter just as he used to be. And he was the chief intimidator of that Twitter crowd by Saudis during the era of the Crown Prince Bin Salman. And I should also mention that the only change he has made on his Twitter page is that he changed his title. He used to be a chief adviser in the Royal Court. Now, his title is he’s director of some cyber security operation. So, they just gave him a new title. That’s all that happened. But he’s not under house arrest, he’s not in jail as far as we know.

SHARMINI PERIES: And As’ad, this shell game that is being orchestrated, this charade that we are all being taken through, what can we expect in the next few days in terms of how you think the story is going to unfold?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, I think we cannot underestimate the desire and the skill of the crown prince in staging by force, photo opportunities. He did that today. He had shared the podium with the prime minister of Lebanon, who he had arrested and ordered beaten and humiliated only a year from today. And the prime minister appeared on the stage smiling and even smiled when the Crown Prince cracked a joke at his own expense, making fun of his own detention in Riyadh a year ago. So, they do the staged photo opportunities. He did one the other day, yesterday, when he appeared with one of the sons of Jamal Khashoggi. And the picture, by all accounts of Saudis who shared their observations with me, that it looked very staged. That the garb that the man was wearing looked extremely unironed. Not to mention that the facial expression of the man does not in any way indicate that he was comfortable in being put in that position.

So, most likely you are saying that he was brought against his will. And the Crown Prince did something similar two years ago, or a year ago, when he staged a coup replacing the Crown Prince at the time, Mohamed Bin Nayef, very close to the Americans, with himself. And the man, we now know, was forced to abdicate the post and he was made to appear on camera as if he was willingly transferring power. So, we are going to see more of these staged pictures, images out there. Who knows? We may see Mohamed Bin Salman flying to Istanbul, declaring his utter shock at the crime that took place and that he’s going to pursue justice against this horrible criminal.

SHARMINI PERIES: As’ad, now all of this chaos has caused some in Washington, like Lindsey Graham, to be calling for a leadership change. Is that even an option?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: No, I don’t think so at all. In fact, we have to be very precise here in our language. Lindsey Graham, who was a very close ally of the Saudi government all these years, along with alliances with other dictatorships in the region, he called for replacement of the Crown Prince with another person. He even made, on Fox News, a direct appeal to the Saudi Arabian government to just replace this man. So, it’s just a change of personalities. The United States cares deeply about the survival of this rotten regime and wants it to survive, especially given its alliance in recent years with the occupation of the state of Israel.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. As’ad, as usual, I thank you so much for joining us today and look forward to having you back.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Thank you very much, have a good day.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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