- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2018

Saudi Arabia warned Sunday it will respond to any “threats” against it as its stock market plunged following President Donald Trump’s warning of “severe punishment” over the disappearance of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr. Trump made a point of visiting the kingdom on his first overseas trip as president and has touted arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

But both the White House and the kingdom are under mounting pressure as concern grows over the fate of the veteran journalist and critic of the Saudi government, who vanished Oct. 2 after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Already, international business leaders are pulling out of the kingdom’s upcoming investment forum, a high-profile event known as “Davos in the Desert.”

“The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations,” said the statement published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency on Sunday.

“The kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom’s economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy.”

The statement from the world’s top oil exporter came after the Tadawul exchange in Riyadh dropped by 7 percent at one point during the week’s first day of trading, with 182 of its 186 listed stocks showing losses by the early afternoon. The market clawed back some of the losses, closing down 3.5 percent for the day.

Turkish officials say they fear Saudi agents killed and dismembered Mr. Khashoggi after he entered the consulate, saying they have audio and video recordings of it that they have not released.

The kingdom has called the allegations “baseless,” but has offered no evidence the writer ever left the consulate.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevut Cavusoglu has said Saudi officials have thus far not cooperated with their investigation despite a statement from Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz vowing to uncover “the whole truth.”

Mr. Cavusoglu has urged Saudi officials to allow Turkish authorities to enter the consulate.

Severe consequences

According to the Associated Press, in an interview to be aired Sunday, Mr. Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that the consequences of Saudi Arabia being involved would be “severe.”

“There’s something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that was the case, so we’re going to have to see,” he said. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment.”

However, Mr. Trump in the same interview said: “As of this moment, they deny it and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes.”

Other stock exchanges in the Mideast saw far less volatility Sunday. U.S. markets have been rattled by rising interest rates, signs of a slowdown in the global economy and the U.S.-China trade dispute.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. But Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance, and suspicions he may have been targeted over his criticism of the crown prince, have led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of an upcoming high-profile investment conference in Riyadh.

Mr. Trump also said “we would be punishing ourselves” by canceling arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which his administration touted on his first overseas trip. The sale is a “tremendous order for our companies,” and if the kingdom doesn’t buy its weaponry from the U.S., they will buy it from others, he said. Mr. Trump said he would meet with Khashoggi’s family.

American lawmakers in both parties have been more critical of Saudi Arabia, with several suggesting officials in the kingdom could be sanctioned if they were found to be involved in Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged killing.

On Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said the Trump administration should skip the Saudi’s upcoming international investors conference.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is scheduled to attend the meeting this month in Riyadh.

“I don’t think he should go,” Mr. Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I don’t think any of our government officials should be going and pretending it’s business as usual until we know what’s happened here.”

Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, said Mr. Mnuchin still plans to attend the conference, which he described as a meeting on stopping terrorist financing.

Mr. Rubio added that Congress would respond strongly no matter how the administration may react.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, echoed the outrage over the possibility that Mr. Khashoggi may have been murdered.

“We cannot have an ally who murders in cold blood in their own consulate,” said Mr. Sanders.

Former CIA Director and one-time Saudi Arabia station chief John Brennan, added that the Saudi’s “denials ring hollow.”

“Their [Saudi] denials ring hollow,” Mr. Brennan said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “It would be inconceivable that such an operation would be run by the Saudis without the knowledge of the day-to-day decision-maker of Saudi Arabia. That’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”

Mr. Khashoggi, who was considered close to the Saudi royal family, had become a critic of the current government and Prince Mohammed, the 33-year-old heir apparent who has shown little tolerance for criticism.

As a journalist, Mr. Khashoggi has written extensively about Saudi Arabia, including criticism of its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving.

Those policies are all seen as initiatives of the crown prince, who has also presided over a roundup of activists and businessmen.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized Saudi Arabia and King Salman over rising global oil prices. Benchmark Brent crude now trades above $80 and U.S. gasoline prices have risen ahead of the midterm elections.

Earlier this month, Mr. Trump suggested Saudi Arabia’s king “might not be there for two weeks” without U.S. military support.

Valerie Richardson contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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