The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Riyadh vows response to action over journalist

Saudi Arabia warns it has influentia­l and vital role in global economy

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DUBAI/WASHINGTON: Saudi Arabia Sunday warned against threats to punish it over last week’s disappeara­nce of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as European and U.S. allies piled on pressure.

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist critical of Riyadh’s policies, disappeare­d on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkey believes he was murdered and his body removed. Saudi Arabia has denied that.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened “severe punishment” if it turns out Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, though he said Washington would be “punishing” itself if it halted military sales to Riyadh.

“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,” the official Saudi Press Agency quoted an unidentifi­ed official as saying.

“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 official added.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington later tweeted what it called a clarificat­ion, thanking countries including the United States “for refraining from jumping to conclusion­s” over the case.

In a sign Saudi King Salman bin Abdel-Aziz may seek a diplomatic solution to the incident, the monarch stressed the strength of Saudi-Turkish ties in a telephone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the SPA said late Sunday.

King Salman thanked Erdogan for welcoming a Saudi proposal to form a joint working group to discuss Khashoggi’s disappeara­nce and said that no one could undermine their relationsh­ip.

Europe’s largest economies – Britain, France and Germany – said Sunday they were treating the case with “the utmost seriousnes­s.”

“There needs to be a credible investigat­ion to establish the truth about what happened, and – if relevant – to identify those bearing responsibi­lity for the disappeara­nce of Jamal Khashoggi, and ensure that they are held to account,” the countries said in a joint statement.

“We encourage joint Saudi-Turkish efforts in that regard, and expect the Saudi government to provide a complete and detailed response. We have conveyed this message directly to the Saudi authoritie­s.”

The statement, by Britain’s Jeremy Hunt, France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian and Germany’s Heiko Maas, made no mention of potential actions the countries might take. Hunt later said that if Saudi Arabia were proven to be guilty, “we would have to think about the appropriat­e way to react in that situation.”

U.S. senators called for reactions ranging from boycotting an upcoming economic summit in Riyadh to ending support for Saudi military operations in Yemen.

“If they lured this man into that consulate, they went medieval on him, and he was killed and he was chopped up and they sent a death crew down there to kill him and do all of this, that would be an outrage,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio told CNN’s State of the Union.

“Just because they are an ally in an important mission, which is containing Iranian expansion in the region, cannot allow us to overlook or walk away from that.”

A fellow Republican, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” called for “severe action” which he said would affect arms sales and involvemen­t in Yemen.

The Saudi stock market fell as much as 7 percent in early trade Sunday, one of the first signs of economic pain Riyadh could suffer over the affair. By close, it had recovered some losses, ending down 3.5 percent and losing $16.5 billion of market value.

Senators have triggered a provision of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountabi­lity Act requiring the president to determine whether a foreign person is responsibl­e for a gross human rights violation. The act has in the past imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials.

Anti-Saudi sentiment in the U.S. Congress could conceivabl­y raise pressure to pass the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, which would end sovereign immunity shielding OPEC members from U.S. legal action.

In a column published just after the SPA statement was issued, Saudiowned Al Arabiya channel’s General Manager Turki Aldakhil warned that imposing sanctions on the world’s largest oil exporter could spark global economic disaster.

“It would lead to Saudi Arabia’s failure to commit to producing 7.5 million barrels. If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure,” he wrote.

A Gulf banker said the Khashoggi case, combined with other events, had become a significan­t factor for some potential investors.

“It’s cumulative – the Yemen war, the dispute with Qatar, the tensions with Canada and Germany, the arrests of women activists. They add up to an impression of impulsive policy-making, and that worries investors,” the banker said.

Foreign capital is key to Saudi plans for economic diversific­ation and job creation. But in response to Khashoggi’s disappeara­nce, media organizati­ons and some technology executives pulled out of the Riyadh investment conference scheduled for next week.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin still plans to attend, but that could change, Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, said on “This Week.”

Prince Khaled al-Faisal, a senior member of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family and senior adviser to King Salman, has met with Erdogan to discuss Khashoggi’s disappeara­nce, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters without providing details.

A Turkish official told Reuters Sunday that the Saudis had said they would allow the consulate to be searched, and that this would happen by the end of the weekend, though he conceded to “flexibilit­y on this date.”

“But Turkey is determined on the subject of entering the consulate and carrying out a criminal inspection. There is no alternativ­e to carrying out this inspection. Time is important in terms of evidence,” the official said. –

 ??  ?? The Saudis have agreed to allow their consulate in Istanbul to be searched.
The Saudis have agreed to allow their consulate in Istanbul to be searched.

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