Saudi Arabia on Sunday called the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate a "huge and grave mistake," but sought to shield its powerful crown prince from the widening crisis, saying Mohammed bin Salman had not been aware.
The comments from Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir were some of the most direct yet from Riyadh, which has given multiple and conflicting accounts about Khashoggi's killing on Oct. 2, first denying his death and later admitting it amid an international outcry.
The weeks of denial and lack of credible evidence in the face of allegations from Turkish officials that Khashoggi had been killed have shaken global confidence in ties with the world's top oil exporter. U.S. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said Saudi Arabia's admission that the Washington Post columnist was killed in a fistfight was a "good first step but not enough," though he added it was premature to discuss sanctions against Riyadh.
Three European powers—Germany, Britain and France—pressed Riyadh to provide facts, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would not export arms to Saudi Arabia while uncertainty over Khashoggi's fate persisted.
Late on Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency said both Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed had called Khashoggi's son, Salah, to express condolences. Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, had extended condolences to Khashoggi's family earlier on Sunday.
"This is a terrible mistake. This is a terrible tragedy. Our condolences go out to them. We feel their pain," Jubeir told the U.S. broadcaster Fox.
"Unfortunately, a huge and grave mistake was made and I assure them that those responsible will be held accountable for this." He said the Saudis did not know how Khashoggi, a Saudi national and U.S. resident, had been killed or where his body was. He also said Prince Mohammed was not responsible.