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ISTANBUL – Saudi Arabia's crown prince "crossed a line" in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and must pay a price, a leading U.S. Senate Republican said Sunday, in a sign of growing tensions between the United States and its Gulf ally.
Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Saturday on CNN's "State of the Union" that he believed Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi royal known as MBS, was behind the killing of Khashoggi, who vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Pro-government media in Turkey have reported that a hit squad traveled from Saudi Arabia to kill the Saudi critic.
Saudi Arabia gave a different version of events on Saturday, saying Khashoggi died in a "fistfight" in the consulate and that 18 Saudi suspects were in custody and intelligence officials had been fired. Although officials close to Prince Mohammed were targeted, Saudi Arabia stopped short of implicating the heir-apparent of the world's largest oil exporter.
The Saudi account was met with widespread international skepticism and allegations of a cover-up, as well as calls for an international investigation led by a U.N.-appointed panel.
The crown prince has "now crossed a line and there has to be a punishment and a price paid for that," Corker said on CNN. He also urged Turkey to turn over purported recordings of Khashoggi's killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The existence of such evidence has been reported in Turkish media in a series of leaks, though Turkish officials have yet to confirm they have recordings.
"The Turks have been talking more to the media than they have us," Corker said of the NATO ally.
Previously, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake had threatened tough punitive action by Congress against Saudi Arabia, including a possible halt of military sales, if it were confirmed that Khashoggi was indeed killed inside the Saudi consulate. U.S. President Donald Trump had also talked about possibly punishing Saudi Arabia, though said he didn't want to halt a proposed $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia because, he maintained, it would harm U.S. manufacturers.
Speaking late Saturday after a campaign rally in Nevada, Trump said he needs to learn more about the killing and will be working with Congress on the U.S. response. He also said he will talk soon to Prince Mohammed.
Trump initially said he believed the Saudi account. On Saturday, he said he still does not know where Khashoggi's body is.
"We'd like to find out where it is and what happened... And I think we're inching our way there," he said.