Saudi Arabia is in classic denial mode. With a straight face, the country has denied that veteran journalist and sharp Saudi critic, Jamal Khashoggi, is still in its Istanbul embassy. They say he left soon after finishing his paperwork.
On the other hand, Turkey believes he’s still inside. All eyes are on the Saudi embassy so there’s no chance of Khashoggi coming out unseen. His fiancée was waiting for him outside. Cameras have shown no sign of the journalist stepping out of the gate.
But according to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, the premises of the embassy is inviolable. Even if Turkey believes Khashoggi is inside, they cannot enter without the permission of the Head of the Saudi Mission.
If Saudi Arabia is thinking of shipping Khashoggi to Riyadh to stand trial for his dissent, they will have to do it secretly, the ‘Argo’ way. It’s very difficult, but not impossible.
The consulate as well as its means of transport are immune to search. If Khashoggi is forcibly driven in a car with a diplomatic license plate to the airport to catch a plane, Turkish police can only watch. But navigating through the airport will be another challenge.
Ankara has alerted the country’s airport authorities to remain alert for this remote possibility. The police, army, media and general public are camping at the site and the whole world is watching.
President Erdogan and the Saudis are reportedly engaged in finding ways and means to safely locate Jamal Khashoggi. The US State Department said they are closely monitoring the situation.
But the chances of resolving a case are higher only in the first 72 hours. If it continues to remain unresolved, like it is now, the probability of finding the truth decreases with each passing day.
There is no way Saudis are not involved in his disappearance. They want him badly.
Khashoggi has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States, and is a stern critic of the Saudi government, particularly the reform plans championed by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. In his columns for Washington Post, he speaks about the wave of arrests, prison sentences and increasingly repressive behavior of the regime.
It’s therefore crucial for Donald Trump to make another call to King Salman. He had recently called him up and told him they wouldn’t survive two weeks without US support and protection.
If the US President is able to help unravel the mystery behind the vanishing act and can help restore Khashoggi to his family and friends, he will have proven that he’s not just ‘tough talking’ with their Gulf ally.
If Khashoggi is still inside, will the Saudis consider keeping him under arrest, locked in a dark chamber in the embassy basement, forever? If that happens, Turkey could consider violating the Vienna Convention and make a small case that human right is important to them.
Something drastic has to be done.