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News Brief: Trump Sends Pompeo To Riyadh, New NPR Poll


President Trump's top diplomat is managing an exceptionally delicate situation.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived today in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Let's remember - Saudi leaders are suspected of having a journalist murdered. Jamal Khashoggi - lived in the United States and wrote for The Washington Post - was last seen in Turkey. President Trump responded to that disappearance by sending his top diplomat.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We want to find out what happened. And he's got instructions to find out what happened. We're talking about the whole situation with Saudi Arabia.

INSKEEP: But President Trump has already signaled which way he may be leaning. He said Saudi Arabia's king called to deny any involvement. And President Trump also spread a conspiracy theory with no evidence, that rogue killers might be responsible.

MARTIN: The presidential remark may have foreshadowed a new explanation by Saudi Arabia. NPR's Peter Kenya (ph) - Peter Kenyon, rather, joins us from Istanbul, where Khashoggi was last seen.

Peter, I want to start with what is happening right now in the investigation in Turkey.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, in Turkey, there was a search, finally, of the Saudi Consulate some 13 days after Khashoggi's disappearance. And this was a search that the Turkish authorities have been talking about for several days. But only last night did they get in there, and they were with Saudi investigators at the same time. They came out about nine hours later. No word yet on what they found. They did, reportedly, collect some samples that they'll be looking at. There's being reported in Turkish pro-government media a bit of anger as well. This is because there was a photo circulated yesterday, hours before the search began, of a cleaning crew...

MARTIN: Right.

KENYON: ...Being ushered into the Saudi Consulate, pushing their equipment right past this crowd of reporters waiting outside. What they were asked to clean isn't clear. Whether it has any bearing on this, we'll have to wait and see.

MARTIN: So how does that fit into the new theory that's being postulated about what could have happened to Jamal Khashoggi? Because up till now, the Saudis have said they have no idea what happened to the journalist...

KENYON: That's right.

MARTIN: ...But that could be changing?

KENYON: Well, we're seeing several reports in U.S. news outlets quoting anonymous sources saying the Saudis are considering a new explanation of what happened to Khashoggi. This new explanation would acknowledge that he did die in the consulate but claim that it was an accident during interrogation. NPR hasn't confirmed these reports. If confirmed, though, it would be a complete repudiation of this earlier Saudi claim that Khashoggi left the consulate freely. Again, this isn't confirmed. It's something we're watching closely. It would also seem to contradict some of the evidence Turkish security sources say they've been collecting, especially this allegation that the team of Saudis who arrived in Istanbul the day Khashoggi disappeared included a forensic expert, someone skilled at dealing with corpses.

MARTIN: So - the implication being they wanted to interrogate Khashoggi, maybe rough him up a bit but didn't mean to kill him. And then it was an accident?

KENYON: That is the gist of these reports we're seeing, these unconfirmed reports. And it has some analysts wondering if this is an effort to insulate the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, from any of the fallout.

MARTIN: Right. So what's the purpose of sending Mike Pompeo there? I mean, now we've got the secretary of state, presumably, going to be in a photo op with the crown prince who's now connected to something very unsavory, to say the least.

KENYON: Well, that's right. And he's there on behalf of President Trump, who says he wants to get to the bottom of Khashoggi's disappearance. And this trip does show Washington getting very visibly involved in this case, pressing Riyadh for an explanation of what happened. And as you mentioned earlier, this comment about rogue killers suggests that some kind of effort could be made to find an explanation that doesn't implicate the crown prince.

INSKEEP: Pompeo's trip also emphasizes how very much is at stake here. This is a very deep and long-lasting and broad relationship between two countries with fundamentally different ideas of human rights and how a country should be run. The disappearance of this journalist has highlighted that. And yet if you are President Trump, who's clearly been leaning toward the Saudis - or really any U.S. administration - you would have to ask, how do you manage this situation given the billions of dollars of investment and long-standing military ties and other kinds of ties that are at stake?

MARTIN: Right. So let's bring in, on that note, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who is looking at this from a different view.

Tam, why send Mike Pompeo right now?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, President Trump didn't have good answers to what happened. And sending Mike Pompeo is a very big signal that he's taking it seriously. President Trump is under a lot of pressure about this. And sending the secretary of state says, you know, the president of the United States, as he says, wants to get to the bottom of it.

MARTIN: Wants to get to the bottom but is also now reaffirming basically an out for the Saudi regime - giving them an out by suggesting it could be these quote, unquote, "rogue killers."

KEITH: Yeah. So this actually hits on a few things that President Trump does a lot when confronted with difficult or uncomfortable information. If there is an ally or someone who he is predisposed to like, he will believe their denial - or at least he will say he believes their denial. There are numerous examples of this, including, most notably, the denials that have come from Vladimir Putin about election interference. President Trump will repeat the denial. And often he'll say he wants to get to the bottom of it. It's sort of a catch phrase of his. And one other thing that he does - he throws out wild ideas that are unsupported by fact that fits with the course of action that he's hoping to take, the outcome that he wants. So for instance, the 400-pound man in the basement hacking the election or the idea that climate change could be real, but it could also just fix itself.

MARTIN: So you mentioned that the president is under pressure from Congress on this particular issue. But I mean, does that even matter to him? And what kind of pressure are we talking about?

KEITH: Well, it does matter to him because Congress could take action, and they could also force action. Late last week, some high-level bipartisan members of the Senate put in an official request for the global Magnitsky Act, which sets a clock in motion for the administration to look into what happened. And if it's found that there was torture or other things that were...

MARTIN: The regime (ph) that's responsible for his death basically.

KEITH: Yeah. If - they will have to put sanctions on those who are deemed to be responsible.

INSKEEP: It also matters to the president because Saudi Arabia, while it is a vital ally and an important ally, is also an extremely unpopular ally in the United States. And that unpopularity is reflected in Congress, which can, on foreign policy issues, from time to time, go a different way than the president would like, even though Congress has been broadly supportive of whatever the president wants to do.

MARTIN: Well, as others have pointed out, this is awkward to say the least. This was the first visit that the president made as the new executive in the White House, going to visit Riyadh.

NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith - we also heard from NPR's correspondent based in Istanbul, Peter Kenyon. Thanks to you both.

KEITH: You're welcome.

KENYON: Thank you.


MARTIN: All right, there is this sense among a lot of people that there's a deep divide between rural and urban America, that rural America is poor and in decline while the cities in this country and the suburbs are thriving.

INSKEEP: NPR's own reporting doesn't really bear that out, and neither does a new poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. That poll is out today, and it finds that rural America looks like a patchwork of economic and social issues - better in some places, worse in others. Some areas are struggling; others are booming. Small-town Americans face real challenges, according to this study, but also have optimism for their future.

MARTIN: NPR's Alison Kodjak is in the studio with us this morning to talk about this poll.

Thanks for being here.

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: All right. What did the survey find?

KODJAK: So the biggest thing was that the biggest two issues among rural Americans, which might not come as a huge surprise, are opioid addiction and the economic situation. But what was interesting was that they were on equal footing now. We asked people if they personally know someone who's struggled with addiction, and almost half - 49 percent - said yes. So we called around, and I talked to a woman named Brenda who answered our poll. She lives in this tiny Virginia town right on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee, and she says addiction is everywhere in her community, including in her immediate family. So here she is.

BRENDA: My daughter and her husband have got two sons, and he walked off and left them because he couldn't give up his drug habit.

KODJAK: Brenda told me her niece has died of an addiction. Her nephew has died of an addiction. It's really hit her hard. So Brenda lives in coal country, where the economy's really in distress. And there just aren't many job opportunities there.

BRENDA: If you come out of college with a degree, you're more than likely going to leave this area to find work.

MARTIN: So she's hit by the opioid crisis. She's hit by a bad economic situation there. But the poll - interesting enough - despite those issues, found that a lot of people are actually optimistic.

KODJAK: Yeah. And that was what was interesting. About half the people we surveyed said they are doing better than their parents were economically at their age. And even more surprising, they expect their kids to be better off financially than they are. And so - yeah, there's a sense...

MARTIN: Why? (Laughter).


MARTIN: Why do they believe that? I mean, that's great. But...

KODJAK: Well, that - I think that's what we found. As Steve mentioned earlier, it's a patchwork. So despite the problems in coal country, a lot of rural areas in this country are actually doing really well. The agricultural zones in the Central Valley of California; in Iowa, the unemployment rate is really low; the oil patch in North Dakota.

So I talked to Chris Thornberg. He's an economic forecaster in Los Angeles. And he says rural areas are really tied to one single industry. So if the industry is doing well, the community is probably doing well.

CHRISTOPHER THORNBERG: So it might have a coal town and an oil town. Well, the coal town is doing terrible because coal can't compete in this era of cheap natural gas. On the other hand, because of fracking, these rural communities sitting on shale oil are booming. And incomes are up dramatically as a result of all that new money flowing into the region for oil exploration and drilling.

KODJAK: So your outlook when you're in rural America, which is just not one thing...

MARTIN: Right.

KODJAK: ...Is going to depend on industry.

MARTIN: That's the takeaway, right?

KODJAK: Yeah, exactly. So it's pretty complicated.

MARTIN: Rural America is made up of a lot of different people, a lot of different situations. NPR's Alison Kodjak giving us the latest on this new NPR poll.

Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

KODJAK: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF KINACK'S "SHINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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