Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that the “protection of America” emboldened Saudi Arabia to carry out the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi earlier this month.
“No one would imagine that in today’s world and a new century that we would witness such an organized murder and a system would plan out such a heinous murder,” Rouhani said, according to an Islamic Republic News Agency report that was cited by Reuters.
“I don’t think that a country would dare commit such a crime without the protection of America,” he said.
President Donald Trump and his administration have been the target of much criticism in the weeks since Khashoggi’s killing for their relaively hands-off approach with Saudi Arabia. The president initially appeared to defer to the Saudi government’s denials of wrongdoing and has often played up the economic value to the U.S. of arms sales to the Arab kingdom, warning that upsetting that trade could be disastrous for American workers.
The Trump administration has more recently adopted a tougher stance, revoking U.S. visas for some of the Saudi officials accused of playing a role in Khashoggi’s death. The president has continued to publicly accept Saudi King Salman’s denial that he was aware of plans to kill Khashoggi but conceded in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “is running things over there more so at this stage. He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.”
Trump has put a focus on improving ties with Saudi Arabia through his first two years in office, visiting the kingdom for his first presidential trip abroad and hosting Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the White House last spring.
Khashoggi, who had been critical of Saudi Arabia, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Saudi officials denied involvement in his disappearance until last week, when the government reversed course and claimed Khashoggi had been killed in an argument that escalated into a fistfight. That explanation has been met with widespread skepticism.
Even Trump has expressed growing frustration with the evolving Saudi explanations, on Tuesday labeling Khashoggi’s killing and its aftermath “the worst in the history of cover-ups.”
Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been rivals, at odds in their efforts to dominate the Middle East and exert influence over the region. The Trump administration has repeatedly clashed with the Iranian government, including by withdrawing from a landmark nuclear agreement signed in 2015, and has leaned heavily on Saudi Arabia in its efforts to isolate Iran. The U.S. has accused Iran of supporting groups Washington has identified as terrorist organizations.