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Pompeo calls Saudi ties after Khashoggi 'middle finger' to media

Then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on October 16, 2018, days after the killing of Saudi dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi
— Washington (AFP)

Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in a book released Tuesday staunchly defended Saudi Arabia after the killing of a dissident writer, gloating that his diplomatic relationship with the kingdom was a "middle finger" to US media.

Pompeo flew to Riyadh days after the October 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi living in the United States who wrote opinion pieces in The Washington Post criticizing the kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"What really made the media madder than a vegan in a slaughterhouse was our relationship with Saudi Arabia," Pompeo wrote in "Never Give an Inch," a combative memoir of his time as Donald Trump's top diplomat.

On Trump dispatching him, Pompeo wrote, "In some ways, I think the president was envious that I was the one who gave the middle finger to The Washington Post, The New York Times and other bed-wetters who didn't have a grip on reality."

The CIA, which Pompeo once led, in findings later declassified by President Joe Biden said that Crown Prince Mohammed ordered the killing of Khashoggi, who was lured into the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul where he was strangled and dismembered.

Pompeo in his book did not contest Saudi responsibility, writing, "This grotesque butchery was outrageous, unacceptable, horrific, sad, despicable, evil, brutish and, of course, unlawful."

"But it wasn't surprising -- not to me, anyway. I'd seen enough of the Middle East to know that this kind of ruthlessness was all too routine in that part of the world," he said.

He also disputed that Khashoggi was a "journalist," mocking the media of turning him into a "Saudi Arabian Bob Woodward who was martyred for bravely criticizing the Saudi royal family."

Pompeo's remarks brought immediate condemnation, with Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, saying she was "horrified and upset."

"He has spoken with no respect and no humanity about a person murdered so brutally," she wrote on Twitter.

Washington Post publisher and CEO Fred Ryan said it was "shocking and disappointing" to see Pompeo "so outrageously misrepresent" Khashoggi.

"Jamal dedicated himself to the values of free speech and a free press and held himself to the highest professional standards. For this devotion, he paid the ultimate price," Ryan said in a statement.

Pompeo insisted that Crown Prince Mohammed was a reformist who "will prove to be one of the most important leaders of his time, a truly historic figure on the world stage."

He said there should instead have been more scrutiny of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who criticized Saudi Arabia over the killing. Pompeo wrote that the Turkish leader "had gone full Islamist-authoritarian."