The U.S. offered to help Wednesday in the investigation of the mysterious disappearance of a Saudi journalist last seen entering Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, a week ago.
Turkey has launched an intensive probe into the disappearance of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Vice President Mike Pence did not indicate whether Turkey or Saudi Arabia has sought U.S. assistance, but when asked if Washington might dispatch FBI technicians if Saudi Arabia requested it, he said, "I think the United States of America stands ready to assist in any way."
Turkish authorities say they believe Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate, an allegation Saudi Arabia says is "baseless."
A key U.S. lawmaker, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, told VOA the unfolding drama could significantly affect U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, long an American ally in the Middle East.
"If it turns out that suspicions of Saudi involvement in the murder of this journalist are true," Kaine said, "it could be a real sea-change in the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that could affect many things, including U.S. support for what Saudi Arabia is doing in Yemen. So I think we have to get to the bottom of it."
Saudi Arabia has not produced any video footage showing that Khashoggi ever left the consulate alive October 2 after arriving to pick up documents related to his upcoming marriage to a Turkish national, Hatice Cengiz. Nor has Turkey disclosed any information supporting its claim that 15 Saudi operatives who arrived in Istanbul on two flights the same day killed him or possibly spirited him out of the country to Riyadh.
Pence told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt that Khashoggi's disappearance is "a great concern for the United States of America. The suggestion that this journalist, Mr. Khashoggi, was you know, was murdered should be deeply troubling to everyone that cares as a free and open press around the world. ... The free world deserves answers. Violence against journalists should be condemned, but at this point, we don't know what happened."
Khashoggi, who had written articles in The Washington Post that were critical of the Saudi regime and its intervention in the war in Yemen, has been living for a year in the U.S. in self-imposed exile. Cengiz, his fiancee, wrote in the newspaper Tuesday that Khashoggi had been "somewhat concerned that he could be in danger" when he first visited the consulate September 28, but after that visit was uneventful, seemed unconcerned when he returned last week to pick up the documents they needed to get married.
She called on U.S. President Donald Trump to "help shed light" on the journalist's disappearance. She also urged Saudi Arabia's leaders to release security camera video from the consulate area.
15 Saudi nationals
Turkish media Wednesday showed what it said was a team of 15 Saudis arriving at the Istanbul airport on the same day Khashoggi went missing. The Sabah newspaper, which is close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, published names and pictures of the Saudi nationals, apparently taken at a passport control station.
Later, eight of the men checked into the Movenpick hotel near the consulate, with seven others checking into a nearby hotel, the Wyndham. Nearly two hours after Khashoggi entered the consulate, video shows two vehicles with diplomatic plates leaving the consulate through police barricades and headed to the Saudi consul general's residence. The 15 Saudis left Turkey at four different times, the Sabah report said.
'Silence, denials, delays'
Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan issued the newspaper's latest plea for information Tuesday, saying neither Saudi Arabia nor Turkey has provided satisfactory answers.
"Silence, denials and delays are not acceptable. We demand to know the truth," Ryan said in a statement.
Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday authorities would search the Saudi consulate, but there have been no details about when such a search would take place.
Trump told reporters at the White House he plans to talk to the Saudis about the case, but had no information about Khashoggi's fate.
Erdogan said Saudi officials need to prove that Khashoggi left the building.
"We have to get an outcome from this investigation as soon as possible. The consulate officials cannot save themselves by simply saying, 'He has left,'" Erdogan said earlier in the week.
Crown Prince Salman said last week that Riyadh was "ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises," because it had "nothing to hide" about the missing journalist.
Michael Bowman contributed to this report.