A prominent Saudi royal said Saturday that whether or not heads of state gathered in Argentina next week for the Group of 20 summit warmly engage with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he is someone "that they have to deal with."
Prince Turki al-Faisal told The Associated Press the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul last month is "an unacceptable incident that tars and mars the long record of Saudi Arabia's own standing in the world."
"We will have to bear that. It's not something that should not be faced. And we do face it," he said.
Intelligence officials and analysts say the operation to kill Khashoggi, who wrote critically of the crown prince for The Washington Post, could not have happened without Prince Mohammed's knowledge. The kingdom, which has offered several conflicting accounts of the killing, denies the crown prince had any involvement.
The crown prince embarked late Thursday on his first foreign tour since the Oct. 2 killing with a visit to the United Arab Emirates. He's expected to visit other Mideast countries before going to Buenos Aires Nov. 30 for the start of the two-day G-20 summit, where he'll come face to face with world leaders.
President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has kept international pressure mounting on the kingdom, are among those expected to attend.
"Whether the leaders in that summit will warmly engage with the crown prince or not, I think all of them recognize that the kingdom as a country and King Salman and the crown prince are people that they have to deal with," the prince said.
He said Saudi Arabia will continue to play a role on the world stage and that Trump's statement of support for Saudi Arabia recognizes the importance of the kingdom.
Trump insists there's not enough evidence to blame the crown prince for Khashoggi's killing, despite a U.S. intelligence report's assessment to the contrary. Trump says the kingdom is an important ally that has helped to lower oil prices.
"I thought President Trump was expressing what he felt was in the interest of the United States. He emphasized the strategic relationship between the two countries in the same statement and how Saudi Arabia has been helpful in many instances — not just oil," said Prince Turki.
The prince also firmly dismissed the U.S. intelligence assessments that the crown prince had ordered Khashoggi's killing, saying these same intelligence bodies had a "remarkably flawed assessment" in 2003 in the lead up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"So we don't take it as being, as I said, divine revelation," he said of the U.S. intelligence reports.
Prince Turki, who led Saudi intelligence for more than two decades and served as ambassador to the U.S. and Britain, had links with Khashoggi before the writer became an outspoken government critic. Khashoggi was reportedly an adviser to Prince Turki at one point and supported by the royal during his brief stints as editor-in-chief of Saudi newspaper al-Watan. The prince's father is the late King Faisal and his brother is Prince Khalid al-Faisal, the governor of Mecca.
Prince Turki said that reports of discontent within the ruling Al Saud family over the crown prince's rapid rise to power do not reflect the "extraordinary support" that King Salman and his son enjoy.