The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, insisted on Saturday that “no direct evidence” linked the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Pompeo is a former director of the CIA, which has reportedly concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered the murder.
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that according to the CIA, Prince Mohammed “sent at least 11 messages to his closest adviser, who oversaw the team that killed … Khashoggi, in the hours before and after the journalist’s death”.
Pompeo’s boss, Donald Trump, has disputed that the CIA has said Prince Mohammed is to blame.
Khashoggi was a Saudi national resident in the US who wrote for the Washington Post. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. His body is believed to have been dismembered. It has not been found.
The Saudi government has given contradictory explanations for the death and denied that Prince Mohammed knew of it.
Pompeo spoke to CNN on Saturday, on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Buenos Aires beset by diplomatic embarrassment over the presence of the prince.
Asked if he believed the Saudis, he said: “I’ve spoken about this a lot. I continue to work on this issue. President Trump and this administration sanctioned 17 people that we came to learn were connected to the murder – heinous murder – of Jamal Khashoggi.
“All across the United States government we continue to investigate, to try and learn, to make determinations about what happened, and we’ll continue to hold those responsible accountable. We’ve been very clear, very clear about that since literally the very beginning.”
Pompeo said he would not comment on “intelligence matters or CIA conclusions” and said “reports in the media … often are untrue”.
But he added: “I have read every piece of intelligence that is in the possession of the United States government, and when it is done, when you complete that analysis, there’s no direct evidence linking [Prince Mohammed] to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That is an accurate statement, it is an important statement, and it is the statement that we are making publicly today.”
Pompeo said “the strategic relationship” with Saudi Arabia remained of paramount importance to the US.
Asked about rising opposition in Congress to US support for Saudi Arabia’s military effort in the civil war in Yemen, he said the US was working to end hostilities but “the program that we’re involved in today we intend to continue”.
In Buenos Aires, French president Emmanuel Macron and British prime minister Theresa May were among leaders who said they had confronted Prince Mohammed.
The Turkish president, Recip Tayep Erdogan, said the Khashoggi murder was not formally mentioned by any leader except Justin Trudeau of Canada. He also said Turkey has evidence Khashoggi was killed in seven and a half minutes, and has shared that evidence with countries including the US, Britain, Germany and Saudi Arabia.