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Treasury Secretary Mnuchin pulls out of investment conference, rebuking Saudi regime

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 10/18/2018 By Damian Paletta and Jeanne Whalen

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been under pressure to withdraw from the summit. © Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Getty Images Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been under pressure to withdraw from the summit. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday he would not attend the Future Investment Initiative summit in Saudi Arabia next week, delivering the Trump administration’s first formal rebuke of Saudi Arabia’s royal family following the suspected killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi  inside a Saudi compound in Turkey.

Mnuchin made his announcement in a Twitter post, saying he’d met with President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo but did not explain the reasoning for his decision.

“Just met with @realDonaldTrump and @SecPompeo and we have decided, I will not be participating in the Future Investment Initiative summit in Saudi Arabia,” he wrote.

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Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, disappeared after entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey earlier this month. Turkish officials have alleged Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate by Saudi Arabian agents.

Mounting evidence suggests the Saudi government has knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate, as well as that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — one of Trump’s closest allies in the region — is somehow connected to Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Last week, even after reports surfaced about a possible link between the killing and Saudi’s royal family, Mnuchin expressed his intent to still attend the conference. But multiple financial executives and media outlets announced in recent days they would not attend the conference.

The meeting is one of the biggest international financial summits in the World, and it is seen as a major opportunity for Saudi officials to showcase their economy.

Trump has been less critical of Saudi Arabia’s response to Khashoggi’s disappearance than other U.S. officials, defending the regime as an ally and saying the public should wait for more information before forming a judgement.

But Mnuchin was under mounting pressure to withdraw. His top advisers had said in recent days that he was waiting for more information before deciding whether to attend.

The president has said any possible response to Khashoggi’s disappearance must take into account the United States’ security and defense ties with Saudi Arabia. In defending his reluctance to criticize the Saudi regime, Trump has cited Saudi Arabia’s huge investment in U.S. weapons and technology, suggesting it could decide to instead purchase the material from China or Russia. Trump has cited the Saudi investment as being in excess of $100 billion, though experts believe that figure is highly inflated.

Trump has tried to forge a close relationship with bin Salman, and the Saudis feted Trump with an elaborate celebration during a visit last year. Some Republicans have warned the White House was at risk of becoming too close with a Saudi ruling family that is known for brutal tactics against its own people.

The conference is scheduled for next week in Riyadh, and Mnuchin was under pressure to withdraw from congressional Republicans. His top advisers had said in recent days he was waiting for more information before deciding whether to attend.

A string of high-profile business leaders have already withdrawn from the conference over the past week, including the chief executives of Uber, JPMorgan Chase and Viacom Inc., and the heads of asset managers BlackRock and Blackstone Group. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, also dropped out, as did top officials from Ford Motor Company and Google.

Entrepreneurs Steve Case and Richard Branson were among the first to distance themselves from the Saudis over Khashoggi’s alleged killing, with Branson saying Saudi involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance would “clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi Government.”

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