DAMASCUS, Syria — U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday condemned the apparent killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and asserted that the Saudis and Turkish authorities believe the killing was ordered by a “very high-level person” in the Saudi government.
The White House had previously refused to weigh in on Khashoggi’s death.
But in a separate comment later in the day, Trump said that he had “a feeling it was probably the crown prince” — referring to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler — who was responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
“It’s probably the crown prince,” Trump said. “I hope it’s not, but if it is that would be terrible.”
Trump’s comments came as the Emirati foreign minister met with Assad in Damascus on the highest-profile Emirati visit to Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
The visit was an initial public display of support for the Assad regime and signals that the UAE is pursuing further diplomatic contacts with the regime in Syria, which its military has carried out its own airstrikes against.
The senior Emirati diplomat, Anwar Gargash, an ardent critic of the US, met with Assad and others at the office of the regime’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, according to Syrian state media.
Gargash told reporters he had “good, frank and productive talks” with Assad, and did not mention Saudi Arabia.
“I confirmed the full support of the UAE’s leadership to all steps that will bring stability and peace to Syria, and specifically the UAE’s full backing of all initiatives to end the war and achieve reconciliation between all Syrian factions and restore stability and safety to the country,” Gargash said in a statement.
Gargash, known as an outspoken opponent of the US, said his visit to Syria was intended to “heal” the current rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The previous day, an Emirati drone attack killed at least six Shiite protesters and wounded dozens in the east of the country, a cleric in the area said.
Iran and Syria are both allies of Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah, an ally of the UAE.
When asked about the drone attack, Gargash appeared to reiterate his distaste for the US-led military coalition’s campaigns in Syria and in neighboring Iraq, which he called a “genocide.”
Trump previously said he would stop American support for the coalition in Iraq, and last week signaled an end to the US-led campaign in Syria — with which he has cozied up in recent months.
Gargash met earlier in the day with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and said the two had discussed the fighting between Hezbollah and rival Lebanese political factions, which has forced Lebanon to rely on Iran and Saudi Arabia for assistance.
A week ago, a bomb killed a senior Hezbollah commander in Beirut, a militant who was believed to have played a leading role in the war in neighboring Syria.
Gargash said Hezbollah’s strategy of encouraging “moderate” forces in Lebanon to take power in parliamentary elections earlier this year was based on a need to “let go of” the bloc’s opposition to President Michel Aoun, the Iranian-backed ally of Aoun and the Syrian regime.