Mike Pompeo prioritized oil and Saudi relationship after Jamal Khashoggi's murder. Here's what he said about it.

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepares to speak at Monday's Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association annual convention in Wichita.

When Saudi-American journalist Jamal Khashoggi was tortured and killed at the Saudi embassy in Turkey, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prioritized the relationship with the world's top oil exporter.

Pompeo, speaking to a group of Kansas petroleum producers on Monday, recalled the "kerfuffle" over the "horrific" killing.

"I personally, I was pilloried for having continued to build that relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman," Pompeo said. "But we knew that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia mattered an awful lot to the United States of America.

"While we thought this death was horrific, we knew that relationship was going to matter."

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Khashoggi was reportedly tortured then dismembered with a bone saw while still alive. His screams were recorded, as were the perpetrators who suggested putting in earphones and listening to music while cutting up his body.

The Saudi crown prince, known by his initials MBS, is believed to have ordered the operation.

The American-Saudi alliance was called upon during the energy market collapse early in the coronavirus pandemic, which Pompeo described as "a virus that had come from the Chinese Communist Party, that shut down the economy and government."

Pompeo's comments came Monday during the keynote speech at the Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association annual convention in Wichita. Pompeo was a KIOGA member and president of an oilfield equipment company prior to his entry into politics.

Pompeo has been a close ally of former President Donald Trump, whom he served as the CIA director and later as the country's top diplomat.

He told the oil and gas convention attendees that his "most grueling 72 hours that I had in my time (as secretary of state) was when crude prices fell to minus 30."

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In April 2020, the market for crude oil futures contracts crashed, and traders were essentially paying someone else to deal with their oil. It was the result of excess supply during a time of extremely low demand amid COVID-19 lockdowns. It also contributed to the drop in gas prices.

The Trump administration responded by negotiating with oil-producing nations to cut production.

"It was in that moment that it did matter an awful lot," Pompeo said of his relationship with the crown prince. "He was willing to take my phone call and talk about it, the things that we needed to work on together to make sure that crude oil production from this place was going to be consistent with what President Trump wanted and what America needed."

Pompeo said addressing the "massive supply problem" in the global oil market was "among the most important diplomatic successes I had during my time as secretary of state."

U.S. intelligence report declassified by President Joe Biden's administration in February determined the Saudi crown prince approved the operation to capture or kill Khashoggi. Trump's administration had refused to release the report, as Congress had mandated.

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"The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him," the intelligence report states.

Pompeo and Trump faced heavy criticism for their handling of the killing. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, accused the Republican administration of being complicit in a cover-up of the murder.

Khashoggi was an American resident and a columnist for The Washington Post, where he was critical of the Saudi kingdom and royal family. He went missing on Oct. 2, 2018, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He had been in Turkey to get documents for his upcoming wedding.

Lawmakers of both parties attempted to block weapons sales to Saudi Arabia following the killing.

Saudi Arabia is the top exporter of oil in the world, with about $114 billion worth of crude oil exported in 2020, or about 17% of global exports for the year, according to World's Top Exports.

More:Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman complicit in Jamal Khashoggi's murder, US report says

The kingdom also has the second-largest proven oil reserves in the world.

Pompeo was critical of the The Washington Post during his Wichita speech. About three minutes before discussing Khashoggi's death, Pompeo recalled a time that Trump noted a newspaper story referring to him as the president's "most loyal cabinet member."

"I had to remind him, that was not intended as a compliment," Pompeo said.

Pompeo said he had a personal rule against reading the newspaper.

"It wasn't healthy," he said. "My therapist and my cardiologist had told me stop reading The Washington Post."