DUBAI (REUTERS) – Saudi Arabia on Sunday (Oct 14) warned against threats to punish it over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last week, saying it would retaliate against any sanctions with tougher measures, as international criticism increased.
Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist critical of Saudi Arabia, disappeared on Oct 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkey’s government believes he was murdered inside the building and his body removed. Saudi Arabia has denied that.
US President Donald Trump has threatened “severe punishment” if it turned out Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, though he said Washington would be “punishing” itself if it halted military sales to Riyadh, a key ally.
“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 (SPA)quoted an unnamed government source 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 source added, without elaborating.
Britain, France and Germany told Saudi Arabia 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 foreign ministers from the three 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 British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian and Germany’s Heiko Maas, made no mention of potential actions the countries might take.
The Saudi stock market lost US$33 billion (S$45.5 billion) of its value on Sunday amid investor worries about deteriorating international relations, one of the first signs of the economic pain that Riyadh could suffer over the affair.
In a column published just after the SPA statement, Saudi-owned 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 US$80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to US$100, or US$200, or even double that figure,” he wrote.
US 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 US Congress could conceivably raise pressure to pass the so-called No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, which would end sovereign immunity shielding Opec members from US legal action.
A senior member of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, has met Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan to discuss Khashoggi’s disappearance, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters without providing details of the talks.
On Friday, a source with links to the prince’s family said Prince Khaled, the governor of Mecca, had been sent to Turkey in his capacity as special adviser to King Salman.
A Turkish official told Reuters on 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 had 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.