Washington says funds for US efforts against Islamic State group were approved months ago but critics claim transfer’s timing suspicious
When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew into Riyadh to discuss the disappearance and likely death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia transferred $100m to the State Department for US efforts against the Islamic State (IS) group, the New York Times reported late Tuesday.
While the funding was approved earlier in the summer, critics have viewed the timing of the transfer payment with suspicion.
“The timing of this is no coincidence,” a US official told the New York Times.
The US State Department envoy for the anti-IS coalition said in a statement on Wednesday that they “expected the contribution to be finalized in the fall time frame”.
“The specific transfer of funds has been long in process and has nothing to do with other events or the secretary’s visit,” envoy Brett McGurk said.
The White House has not seemed alarmed amid a barrage of questions about Khashoggi’s disappearance, what Saudi officials know about it and its close ties to Saudi rulers and the country’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in particular.
US President Donald Trump has called for people to give the Saudis the benefit of the doubt, stressing Washington’s business and geopolitical interests in staying close to Riyadh.
Trump tweeted that he spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who “totally denied any knowledge of what took place” in Istanbul. Trump said MBS told him “that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter”.
After Pompeo’s meetings with the king and crown prince on Tuesday, Pompeo said Saudi Arabia has committed to conducting a full investigation.
Asked whether they said Khashoggi was alive or dead, Pompeo said: “They didn’t talk about any of the facts.”
However, various members of the US Congress have been among those expressing outrage over what may have happened to the Washington Post columnist.
“We need answers; we’re not getting them,” Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell told Middle East Eye on Wednesday.
Leading members on the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee have also triggered the Magnitsky Act, a US human rights law that compels the president to order an investigation into possible abuses. The law gives Trump 120 days to issue a report on the findings and impose appropriate measures.
Saudi officials have strongly denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and say that he left the consulate soon after arriving. However, they have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claim and say that video cameras at the consulate were not recording at the time.