By Ken Bredemeier
Saudi Arabia has rebuffed U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to punish it over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying Sunday it would retaliate with “greater” economic actions of its own if Trump were to sanction Riyadh.
The Saudi stock market plunged seven percent before recovering to a five percent loss for the day after Trump told CBS there would be “severe punishment” if it is determined, as Turkey believes, that Saudi agents killed Khashoggi inside Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago.
The Saudis have said the allegation is “baseless,” but have provided no proof that Khashoggi left the diplomatic outpost alive after arriving to pick up documents for his impending marriage.
The official Saudi Press Agency quoted an unnamed government source as saying, “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 statement said the Saudi government “also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action,” noting that its economy, as the world’s biggest oil exporter, “has an influential and vital role in the global economy.”
Trump, in excerpts released Saturday from an interview to be aired Sunday on CBS’s 60 Minutes show, warned there would be “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if it is determined that Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Khashoggi was living in self-imposed exile in the United States and had criticized Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in columns written for The Washington Post.
Trump said “nobody knows yet” what happened inside the consulate, “but we’ll probably be able to find out” if Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder. Trump added the United States “would be very upset and angry if that were the case.”
But Trump, who has frequently boasted about his business ties with the kingdom, suggested during the interview that ending U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia would not be an option, saying, “I don’t want to hurt jobs.”
A key U.S. lawmaker, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, told CNN on Sunday that if Saudi agents “went medieval” on Khashoggi, “that would be an outrage.”
He said any response to Khashoggi’s killing “needs to be strong, not symbolic,” including the possibility of cutting off U.S. weapons sales to Riyadh, or it would undermine the U.S.’s moral standing in the world.
In protest of Khashoggi’s disappearance, several U.S. businesses leaders have pulled out of next week’s Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” after the annual meeting of world economic interests in Switzerland. Rubio said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin should also withdraw, but White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the Treasury chief is still planning to go.
Media reports say Khashoggi may have recorded his own death on his Apple Watch.
Accounts say Khashoggi turned on the sound recording capability on his device as he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
The watch is reported to have been connected to the iCloud and the cell phone that he left with his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, before he entered the consulate. Cengiz said she waited for Khashoggi to come out of the consulate, but he never left.
The reports say the watch recorded not only Khashoggi’s interrogation and torture, but also his murder.
The Washington Post reported in recent days that the Turkish government informed U.S. officials it was in possession of video recordings that prove Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, but have not made them public.
Saudi officials have denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and said he departed the consulate shortly after entering. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdel Aziz bin Saud bin Nayef has called the reports the government ordered Khashoggi killed “lies and baseless allegations.”
A group of 15 Saudi men is reported to have flown into Istanbul the day that Khashoggi went to the consulate. Media reports say the men were in the consulate when Khashoggi was there. The men stayed at the consulate for a few hours and then took flights back to Saudi Arabia.
One of the members of the group, according to CNN, has been identified by Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency and the Sabah newspaper as Salah Muhammed al-Tubaiqi, whom the media outlets say is listed on an official Saudi health website as the head of the forensic medicine department at the Interior Ministry.