Dyer: The plot thickens in the Khashoggi tapes affair

How odd. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sends an audio recording of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to the governments of all Turkey’s major NATO allies — and the only one that gets it is Canada.

What happened to the copies Erdogan sent to the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Germany?

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Lost in the mail-room, no doubt, or maybe just lying unopened on somebody’s desk. Or perhaps the Turks just didn’t put enough stamps on the packages.

“We gave them the tapes,” Erdogan said last weekend.

“They’ve also listened to the conversation. They know it.”

But still not a word out of Washington or London acknowledging they have heard the recordings — and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denied that France has received a copy.

When asked if that meant Erdogan was lying, Le Drian replied: “It means that he has a political game to play in these circumstances.”

Like most Western politicians and diplomats, Le Drian is desperate to avoid calling out Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as a murderer.

The French have a highly profitable commercial relationship with the oil-rich kingdom, mostly selling it arms, and they don’t want to acknowledge the evidence on the recording (which may directly implicate the crown prince) because it could jeopardize that trade.

Erdogan was furious when the French foreign minister issued his denial.

Erdogan’s communications director insisted a representative of French intelligence had listened to the recording as long ago as Oct. 24.

But it was all just “he said/she said” stuff until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blew the game wide open this past Monday.

Yes, Trudeau said, Canadian intelligence has the recording and he is well aware of what is on it.

In fact, Canadian intelligence agencies have been working closely with Turkey on the murder investigation, Trudeau said, adding Canada is “in discussions with our like-minded allies as to the next steps with regard Saudi Arabia.”

Why did Trudeau come clean? One popular theory is the nothing-left-to-lose hypothesis.

In August, the tempestuous crown prince killed all future trade deals with Canada, pulled thousands of Saudi Arabian foreign students out of Canadian universities and generally showered curses on the country after Canadian officials called for the release of detained Saudi campaigners for civil rights and women’s rights.

Canada’s bridges to Saudi Arabia have already been burned, according to this theory, so Trudeau felt free to say the truth.

But he’s not really free as Canada still has a $13-billion contract to build armoured vehicles for Saudi Arabia that the Saudis might cancel. This is a real contract, not one of those fantasy arms sales invented by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Maybe Trudeau is just braver than the others, but his purpose is clear.

He waited more than three weeks after getting the recording for the “like-minded allies” to agree to a joint policy toward the murderous prince — nobody believes Khashoggi could have been killed without bin Salman’s consent — and then he spilled the beans.

Of course all the major NATO governments have the recordings. They have had them for at least three weeks. They were just dithering over what to do about them and Trudeau decided it was time to give them a push.

Good for him, but what exactly can they do about bin Salman’s crime?

It almost certainly was bin Salman (as they call him) who ordered the killing. Since his elderly father, King Salman, gave him free rein to run the country less than three years ago, he has become a one-man regime.

Nothing happens without bin Salman’s approval, least of all the murder of a high-profile critic in a foreign country by a 15-strong Saudi hit squad including several members of bin Salman’s personal security team.

No Western leader (except, perhaps, Trump) will be seen in public with bin Salman any more, foreign investment in Saudi Arabia this year is the lowest in several decades and the price of oil is falling again.

So he has to go, if it’s still possible for anybody in Saudi Arabia to remove him from power.

But that’s the big question.

The Saudi royal family is no longer a tight, united body that can just decide bin Salman has to go and make it stick.

It’s a sprawling array of people, many of whom scarcely know each other.

Without the agreement of King Salman, any smaller group within the family that organized a coup against the crown prince would almost certainly fail.

So he may go on for a while despite the disaster of his military intervention in Yemen, his pointless, fruitless blockade of Qatar and even this ugly murder.

He wouldn’t be the only killer in power.

But the bloom is definitely off this particular rose.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work). Read more columns by Dyer online at kamloopsthisweek.com, under the Opinion tab.

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