Saudis reject US threats over death of journalist

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President Donald Trump said he will soon speak with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman about the disappearance of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. (Oct. 12)
AP

Saudi Arabia denied any involvement in the disappearance of Washington Post contributing journalist Jamal Khashoggi and warned Sunday that any sanctions against the oil-rich kingdom would be met with “greater action” and possibly exploding oil prices.

“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 government said  in a statement released to Saudi media. “The Kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action.”

President Donald Trump said Saudi Arabia could face “severe punishment” over Khashoggi, feared murdered after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Trump’s warning dealt a gut punch to the Saudi stock market, which crashed 7 percent Sunday before recovering some of the losses to close down 3.5 percent.

During an interview with CBS News’ Lesley Stahl, which aired Sunday night on “60 Minutes,” Trump said the truth of Khashoggi’s fate would be known “in the not-too-distant future.”

If Saudi Arabia was responsible, Stahl asked, what sanctions might the U.S. put in place?

“Well, it depends on what the sanction is,” Trump said. “I’ll give you an example. They are ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it. We got it.”

“So, would you cut that off?” Stahl asked.

“I don’t want to hurt jobs,” Trump said. “I don’t want to lose an order like that. There are other ways of — punishing, to use a word that’s a pretty harsh word, but it’s true.”

The kingdom’s statement warned that the Saudi economy plays an “influential and vital role” in the global economy. Only the United States and Russia produce more oil than Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

More: Trump doesn’t want to stop arms sales deal with Saudi Arabia

More: Trump to call Saudi king over missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Turki Aldakhil, who leads the Saudi-controlled Al Arabiya television news network, warned Sunday that U.S. sanctions could ignite an “economic disaster that would rock the entire world.”

“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,” Aldakhil wrote in an opinion piece on the Al Arabiya website. He said the fallout could drive “the entire Muslim world into the arms of Iran.”

At a news conference Saturday in the Oval Office, the president said “we would be punishing ourselves” by canceling an arms sales deal with Saudi Arabia. He said the United States was competing against China and Russia for the $110 billion deal. 

Saudi Arabia has worked to diversify its economy by luring foreign investment. The kingdom will host its three-day Future Investment Initiative forum this month. Dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” the forum draws government and financial leaders from around the world. Some dropped out as concerns over Khashoggi’s fate rose.

The president said he planned to speak with Saudi King Salman soon and plans to meet with Khashoggi’s family. Turkey claimed to have audio and video of Khashoggi’s killing. The president said he had not seen or heard the recordings but planned to soon. 

Khashoggi, a Saudi native and fierce critic of the Saudi ruling family, was living in self-imposed exile when surveillance footage showed him entering – but not leaving – the Saudi consulate.

The kingdom vehemently denied killing Khashoggi but provided no explanation for his disappearance.

“Their denials ring hollow,” John Brennan, former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia, told 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.”

Suspicions over Khashoggi’s fate touched off a firestorm of accusations, criticism and political tension between the United States and its strongest ally in the Middle East.

“The truth is that if Washington imposes sanctions on Riyadh, it will stab its own economy to death,” Aldakhil wrote. “Even though it thinks that it is stabbing only Riyadh!”

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Contributing: Christal Hayes, USA TODAY.

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