Istanbul — Hatice Cengiz, who was the fiancée of journalist Jamal Khashoggi when he was brutally murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey in 2018, has told CBS News that she’s “disappointed” with President Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia and meet the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. She said the American president sitting down with the man widely accused of orchestrating the gruesome killing of her betrothed would be “a huge betrayal.”
Khashoggi, a Saudi national who wrote for The Washington Post, went to the consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents to marry Cengiz on October 2, 2018. He was murdered soon after he entered the building. Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor’s office said his body was dismembered and has never been found.
A U.S. intelligence report published by the Biden administration in March 2021 pinned the blame for Khashoggi’s murder on bin Salman, the powerful heir to the Saudi throne who’s often known by his initials, MBS. The report concluded that the crown prince “approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
Bin Salman has denied ordering the killing, blaming his underlings.
President Biden previously condemned Saudi Arabia’s royal leaders for their role in the murder.
While campaigning to win the presidency, Mr. Biden said he would make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” and punish the kingdom’s leaders for their role in Khashoggi’s death.
“Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered and dismembered, and I believe on the order of the crown prince,” Mr. Biden said in 2019. “I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them, we were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are. There’s very little social redeeming value of the — in the present government in Saudi Arabia.”
But on Friday, amid soaring global gas prices, Mr. Biden was to touch down in the oil-rich Saudi capital as part of a wider Middle East trip. He was expected to meet with King Salman, and later at a wider meeting with his son, MBS.
A senior Biden administration official said ahead of the president’s visit to the kingdom that it was unclear exactly how Mr. Biden would interact with MBS at the meeting. Mr. Biden was asked directly on Thursday if he would raise the issue of the journalist’s murder with the crown prince, but he didn’t give a clear response.
“My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear. And I have never been quiet about talking about human rights,” he said in Israel. “I always bring up human rights. But my position on Khashoggi has been so clear. If anyone doesn’t understand, in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, then they haven’t been around for a while.”
“The reason I’m going to Saudi Arabia though is much broader,” Mr. Biden said, adding that the the mission was “to promote U.S. interests.”
“I think we have an opportunity to reassert what I think we made a mistake of walking away from, our influence in the Middle East,” said the president. He’s said he also wanted to convince bin Salman to produce more oil, to help drive down gas prices.
Not good enough reasons, in Cengiz’s opinion, to sit down with a man accused of having a direct role in her fiancé’s murder.
“I got very disappointed when I heard of Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia,” she told CBS News. “Meeting with MBS would be a huge betrayal to all MBS victims, including Jamal.”
Cengiz, who was waiting outside the consulate in Istanbul for her fiancé to reemerge as he was killed, said she was “full of love, hopes and dreams” before his murder. “It started as a love story, but then suddenly it turned into pain and struggle.”
She raised the alarm when Khashoggi failed to come back out of the consulate and, since then, she’s campaigned relentlessly for the men who killed him to face justice. Cengiz has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. against MBS and 20 other suspects.
“What I expect from this lawsuit is that the court will announce who is the guilty [party], which we all know is MBS, the crown prince, and send this message that there is still hope for justice,” she told CBS News.
But her hope of gaining real U.S. government support in that mission has plummeted since Mr. Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia was announced.
The ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom has long been accused of human rights violations. The Saudi Press Agency reported that the country executed 81 people in one day in March, the largest mass execution recorded in its history.
Maya Foa, of the human rights organization Reprieve, said the visit by the American leader would send the wrong signal to the Saudi government.
“We need to see President Biden standing up for the principles which he himself has espoused. He said that he would not support a state which attacks and kills journalists, which executes children, torture victims, protestors,” Foa told CBS News. “So, we need to see those words put into action. We need to see condemnation of the abuses… We cannot be trading oil with blood.”
At the end of August, a court in Washington D.C. will hold a hearing to consider motions brought by the defendants to dismiss the case brought by Cengiz.
Cengiz said she would be watching it carefully, and that she’d continue to “follow this case until I get justice and accountability.”