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Arabic fluency emerges as obstacle to US Khashoggi response

Mattis says he doesn't want to listen to Khashoggi tapes because they're in Arabic [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 November, 2018

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Jim Mattis is the second senior member of the Trump administation who has now said he does not want to listen to the Khashoggi tapes because they are in Arabic.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis is the second senior member of the Trump administation who has now said he does not want to listen to the Khashoggi tapes because they are in Arabic.

On Wednesday Mattis said there's "no smoking gun" connecting the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to the Saudi crown prince he had often criticised.

Mattis told reporters that he went over intelligence reports and read translations of tapes twice, alleging that none of it directly ties the killing to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Responding to questions about whether he listened to the tapes, Mattis answered in the negative, saying he could not "understand that language", in reference to Arabic. 

"But I have spent more than enough time in service of our country. I know what grim circumstances can be. I needed to see what was said, and I read the translations of what is alleged to be the tape". 

Mattis spoke after he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed senators on the US response to Khashoggi's killing.

Mattis said the meeting included exhaustive discussions and that lawmakers expressed frustration with US support to Saudi Arabia.

US lawmakers have called for the US to take a tougher stand against Saudi Arabia as a result of the killing. Mattis and Pompeo urged senators to support the US involvement in the war in Yemen, including assistance to Saudi Arabia.

Only the day before, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said he refused to listen to the tape because he could not understand Arabic.

The content of the gruesome tape - a key piece of evidence in the murder allegedly ordered by US ally Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - was distributed by Turkey after Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

But Bolton told journalists that there is no point in him listening to the events unfolding in the recording because he can't understand the language.

"I guess I should ask you why you think I should, what you think I'll learn from it," he responded to a journalist.

Bolton's reluctance to hear the recording mirrored President Donald Trump's position that there is no need for him to listen.

After press reports that the CIA was pointing the finger directly at Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Trump issued a statement saying that US-Saudi relations and oil market stability were too important to rock over the scandal.

After repeated denials of any knowledge about Khashoggi's disappearance, Saudi Arabia finally admitted the 59-year-old had been murdered at the mission in a "rogue" operation.

Khashoggi, a Post columnist, had gone to the consulate to obtain documents necessary to marry his Turkish fiancee.

Saudi Arabia - which quickly dismissed the reported CIA findings - has repeatedly changed its official narrative of the 2 October murder.

With agencies

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