A preliminary deal has been made between the Turkish president Erdogan and the al-Saud clan in Saudi Arabia. The case of Jamal Khashoggi, killed in Istanbul by bodyguards of the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman, will be closed for now.
Over the last 36 hours, since Erdogan’s speech proved Saudi culpability, there have been no more damaging leaks about the case from the usual Turkish sources.
During a podium discussion at yesterday’s investor conference in Riyadh Mohammad bin Salman denounced the “heinous crime” committed against Jamal Khashoggi. He praised the “unbreakable relations” with Turkey and lauded Qatar’s economic durability.
The comments came after a phone call between MbS and Erdogan.
The negotiations proved to be difficult. The Saudi King sent the governor of Mecca and Medina to make a deal:
Prince Khalid al-Faisal returned home from Ankara with a bleak message for the royal family. “It is really difficult to get out of this one,” Prince Khalid told relatives after his return, one of those family members recalled this week. “He was really disturbed by it.”
Early rumors spoke of a Saudi offer of $5 billion to burry the case. That was not enough.
On Monday the NYT reported that Erdogan denied that he would make any deal of that kind:
Mr. Erdogan, the person close to him said, recounted that a Saudi envoy, Prince Khaled bin Faisal, had offered a package of inducements for Turkey to drop the case — including financial aid and investments to help Turkey’s struggling economy, and an end to a Saudi embargo on Qatar, a Turkish ally. Mr. Erdogan has told associates that he angrily rejected the offer as “a political bribe,” this person said.
Erdogan’s current source of money is Qatar, which is under blockade by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Ending the crisis over Qatar was only one condition he set out to the Saudis. There are other issue related to Syria and more generally the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Turkish side still has the leverage needed to ‘adjust’ any deal and to guarantee that the Saudis stick to it. The tapes of the Khashoggi murder, audio and video, have not been published. The former British ambassador Craig Murray reports:
I have not seen the video from inside the consulate, but have been shown stills which may be from a video. The most important thing to say is that they are not from a fixed position camera and appear at first sight consistent with the idea they are taken by a device brought in by the victim. I was only shown them briefly. I have not heard the audio recording.
If the Saudis try to cheat away from the deal the photos and audio tapes could still be released. They allegedly prove that MbS himself was very much involved in the killing.
The U.S. gave the final push for a deal to fall into place. The CIA’s torturer in chief Gina Haspel was sent to show Erdogan her instruments. Murray writes:
Haspel’s brief was very simple. She took with her intercept intelligence that purportedly shows massive senior level corruption in the Istanbul Kanal project, and suggested that Erdogan may not find it a good idea if intelligence agencies started to make public all the information they hold.
Whether Erdogan held back in his speech yesterday as a result of Haspel’s intervention I do not know.
Haspel listened to the audio tape and found it ‘compelling’.
More details of the deal:
Prince Turki bin Faisal, who was head of Saudi intelligence and Khashoggi’s sponsor, says that the family will stick to MbS no matter what. He claims that the royal subjects in Saudi Arabia support their ruler. Other reports from Saudi Arabia let me doubt that claim even as the reintroduction of a the yearly bonus to Saudi state employees may have calmed some people down.
Today the Khashoggi issue moved from the frontpages of U.S. media. The amateurish bombs sent to several Democrat politicians yesterday have turned the news cycle towards a new issue. Is this just by chance?
Erdogan still would like Mohammad bin Salman to be kicked away from the throne. U.S. pressure may have prevented that for now, but MbS has been cut to size. Congress will request a briefing by Haspel and the cintents of the audio may leak. It will continue to press the issue and, hopefully, end U.S. support for the horrible war on Yemen the Saudis and the UAE are waging with extensive British and U.S. help.
Turkey will also have made demands towards the United States. Erdogan wants the U.S. to end the protection of Kurdish forces in Syria. Rebels supported by Turkey recently attacked a U.S. outpost in Manbij. The clash was soon over with no casualties but it demonstrates that the conflict is still simmering. What carrots did the White House offer him?
It is likely that there is a deal and it may even hold. We will have to wait for more leaks to learn more of its details.
But the strategic issues that were brought to light over the Khashoggi case have not vanished. MbS is unreliable and a danger for U.S. interest. He will want some revenge for the damage Erdogan caused to him. He will wait for a chance to hit back.