United States President Donald Trump on Thursday said he believes that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared two weeks ago in Istanbul, has died, and further warned of "very severe" consequences if Saudi Arabia is proved to be responsible.
"It certainly looks that way to me. It's very sad," said the president when asked by a reporter if he believed Khashoggi, who disappeared more than two weeks ago, is no longer alive.
When questioned about the potential US response to Saudi Arabia, which is accused of murdering the Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi regime, Trump said: "It will have to be very severe. It's bad, bad stuff."
In previous comments to The New York Times, the President said on Thursday that it would be a miracle if the journalist is not dead.
"Unless the miracle of all miracles happens, I would acknowledge that he's dead," the President said. "That's based on everything - intelligence coming from every side," he added, noting that the case is not a positive development for US-Saudi relations.
Trump's words came after he was informed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of the latest aspects of the case - insofar as they have been related to the US officials by Saudi and Turkish authorities.
Pompeo had travelled to Riyadh and Ankara this week to speak with local authorities there regarding Khashoggi's disappearance, but returned and briefed the President personally at the White House on Thursday morning about what he had learned.
At their meeting, Pompeo asked Trump to give Saudi Arabia "a few more days" to investigate Khashoggi's disappearance, although he did not specify when he expected that investigation to be completed.
The Saudi journalist had been living in the US since 2017, periodically writing columns for The Washington Post, but he disappeared on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Many lawmakers, media outlets and other experts have said that there is virtually no doubt that Khashoggi is dead, murdered by specially dispatched Saudi agents inside the consulate.
"We made clear to them that we take this matter with respect to Mr. Khashoggi very seriously," Pompeo told reporters after his White House meeting with Trump, adding that the Saudis "assured me that they will conduct a complete, thorough investigation of all the facts surrounding Mr. Khashoggi and that they will do so in a timely fashion".
"I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that so that we, too, have a complete understanding of the facts surrounding that, at which point we can make decisions about how, or if, the United States should respond to the incident surrounding Mr. Khashoggi," he added.
Trump had predicted on Wednesday that the truth about Khashoggi's disappearance probably would become known before the end of this week, adding that the most important thing as far as he's concerned is to determine if Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman knew anything about the journalist's possible murder.
Pompeo's new remarks point to the possibility that the Saudi investigation could take longer, despite the growing impatience of the international community.
The top US diplomat emphasized that the Saudi report will be "transparent" and that everyone will be able to ask questions about the matter.
The US administration then will also be able to judge whether the Saudi report was credible, accurate, fair and transparent, Pompeo said in response to a reporter's question.
Pompeo also mentioned the long strategic relationship between Washington and Riyadh, saying that "They are an important strategic alliance of the United States and we need to be mindful of that as well."
The Secretary of State noted that Turkey is also investigating the matter and predicted that the two separate probes, when considered together, will be able to provide a full picture of what actually occurred in Istanbul.
(With agency inputs)