ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president spoke directly with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday as the Turkish probe into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi returned to the Saudi Consulate’s grounds in an apparent hunt for the journalist’s remains.
Turkish officials did not immediately give details of the exchanges between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the crown prince, with the two countries sharply at odds over Khashoggi’s slaying on Oct. 2.
But the contact came even as both sides sent contrasting signals.
Erdogan earlier Wednesday kept the pressure high, saying no one linked to the killing will “avoid justice,” an apparent message to Saudi leaders.
Investigators, meanwhile, sought to search a well on the grounds of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and studied surveillance images, trying to piece together Saudi movements before Khashoggi’s slaying.
Mohammed, speaking at a business forum in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, called the killing a “heinous crime” and acknowledged the international outcry over it. But he also made overtures to Turkey and other countries with hopes that Khashoggi’s death would not leave a “wedge” in relations.
Turkey claims that a Saudi hit team planned the killing of the Washington Post contributing columnist for when he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Saudi Arabia has acknowledged that Khashoggi died inside the consulate but says he was accidentally killed in a physical altercation with a team sent to negotiate his return to the kingdom. Khashoggi was living in exile in the United States and had planned to move to Istanbul and marry his Turkish fiancee.
Erdogan’s call with the crown prince was the first conversation between the two leaders since Khashoggi’s death. They discussed “joint efforts” to investigate the case, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported, and the official Saudi Press Agency carried a similar statement.
Earlier, however, Erdogan had vowed to seek justice against those who ordered the killing.
“We are determined not to allow a coverup of this murder and to make sure all those responsible — from those who ordered it to those who carried it out — will not be allowed to avoid justice,” he said in a speech in Ankara, the Turkish capital, news agencies reported.
Turkey’s state-run news agency also reported Wednesday that Saudi officials had prevented Turkish police from searching a water well in the garden of the consulate in Istanbul’s Levent district.
According to the private broadcaster NTV, a fire brigade had been called to inspect for methane gas, which can be flammable, in the well before the police search. Saudi authorities did not allow the firefighters to enter, NTV reported, but the issue was later resolved. It was unclear whether the search went ahead.
Turkish crime-scene experts have previously gathered evidence inside the consulate and the residence of the consul general but still seek greater access.
Also Wednesday, a surveillance-camera image made public in Turkey purported to show a Saudi consular vehicle at Istanbul’s Belgrad Forest the night before Khashoggi was killed. Turkish authorities have said the vehicle’s presence there points to premeditation in the killing.
CIA Director Gina Haspel listened to audio purportedly capturing the interrogation and killing of Khashoggi, giving a key member of President Trump’s Cabinet access to the evidence used by Turkey to accuse Saudi Arabia of premeditated murder. Haspel, who departed for a secret trip to Turkey on Monday, heard the audio during her visit, according to people familiar with her visit. A person familiar with the audio said it was “compelling” and could put more pressure on the United States to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the death of Khashoggi.
In his first public comments since the killing of Khashoggi, Mohammed said his country is doing all it can to complete an investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Addressing a gathering of more than 3,000 business leaders from around the world at the Future Investment Initiative, Saudi Arabia’s signature economic forum, often called “Davos in the Desert,” Mohammed acknowledged no responsibility in the case. He called the killing “a heinous crime” that was “really painful to all Saudis” and to “every human being in the world.”
But the backdrop for his comments — a high-profile investor forum in the Saudi capital — underscored the global backlash confronting the kingdom.
Many business leaders and political envoys from around the world stayed away from the conference amid the outrage over Khashoggi’s slaying.
Some U.S. lawmakers and others have called on Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to reorder the line of succession to drop Mohammed from his position as next in line for the throne.
But Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, a longtime supporter of Khashoggi’s, dismissed the idea of any shake-ups.
“People who think there’s going to be any change in the succession are wrong,” Turki told Post columnist David Ignatius. Instead, Turki said, Saudis are more supportive of MBS, as the crown prince is familiarly known, because he is under attack.
Turkish authorities, including Erdogan, said this week that Saudi agents had scouted Belgrad Forest before the killing inside the consulate.
The image shown by Turkish media outlets — timestamped from a closed-circuit television camera — showed a gray Mercedes-Benz with green diplomatic plates entering the forest gates at 6:28 p.m. on Oct. 1.
A Turkish official previously confirmed that investigators had broadened their search for Khashoggi’s body to wooded areas around the city.
Speaking to Parliament on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the Saudi claim that Khashoggi died in a fight “does not amount to a credible explanation” and that there remains an “urgent need” to establish what happened.
She said that Britain would be taking action against “all suspects” to prevent them from entering Britain, following the U.S. decision to revoke the visas of the Saudi suspects Tuesday — a measure that seemed mostly symbolic, since the suspects are unlikely to have free rein to travel.
“If these individuals currently have visas, those visas will be revoked today,” May said, adding that she would be speaking with King Salman later Wednesday.
Morris reported from London. John Hudson, Souad Mekhennet and Shane Harris in Washington contributed to this report.