By Lesley Wroughton and Stephen Kalin
RIYADH (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that Saudi leaders assured him everyone responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi would be held accountable, as Riyadh tries to resolve its biggest political crisis in a generation.
Pompeo told reporters he had also raised a number of human rights issues with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including women’s rights activists who have been detained for months and some allegedly tortured.
Khashoggi, a longtime royal insider who had become a critic of the crown prince, was killed in October in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, prompting a global outcry including Treasury sanctions on 17 individuals and a U.S. Senate resolution blaming Prince Mohammed.
A CIA assessment has blamed the crown prince for ordering the killing, which Saudi officials deny. At least 21 Saudis have been detained in the case, with five facing the death penalty. Five officials were also fired, including a senior royal advisor.
“They both acknowledged that accountability needed to take place. They talked about the process that is occurring inside their country, both the investigative process and the judicial process that is taking place,” Pompeo said.
“They reiterated their commitment to achieve the objective, the expectations we set for them.”
The outcry over Khashoggi’s murder has strained ties with Western allies and focused attention on Saudi Arabia’s domestic crackdown on dissent and the nearly four-year-old war in Yemen.
During meetings that lasted about 80 minutes total, Pompeo said he had spoken with Saudi leaders about women’s rights activists detained last summer and accused of treason.
“Their commitment was that the lawful judicial process would take place and they would do so quickly, and that they would continue down that path,” he told reporters.
On Yemen, Pompeo and Prince Mohammed agreed on the need for continued de-escalation and adherence to agreements made last month at talks in Sweden to end the civil war between the Saudi-backed government and the Iranian-aligned Houthis.
“We talked about the fact that work done in Sweden on Yemen was good but we need both sides to honour those commitments. To date, the Iranian-backed Houthis have chosen not to do that,” he said.
Pompeo, whose earlier stops included Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Doha, will cut short the rest of his Middle East trip to attend a family funeral, a State Department spokesman said. He will return home after meetings in Oman instead of travelling on to Kuwait.
(Additional reportingn by Sylvia Westall and Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Alison Williams)