Monday 18 November 2019

Saudis vow to 'retaliate' if sanctioned over journalist

International criticism grows over case of missing Jamal Khashoggi

Missing: Friends of journalist Jamal Khashoggi hold his pictures during a protest outside the Saudi Consulate in London. Photo: Reuters
Missing: Friends of journalist Jamal Khashoggi hold his pictures during a protest outside the Saudi Consulate in London. Photo: Reuters

Aziz El Yaakoubi and Asma Alsharif dubai

Saudi Arabia yesterday 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.

Mr Khashoggi, a US resident and 'Washington Post' columnist critical of Saudi Arabia, disappeared on October 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 Mr 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.

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

In a sign Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud may seek a diplomatic solution to the incident, he stressed the strength of Saudi-Turkish ties in a telephone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the Saudi press agency said last night.

The king thanked Mr Erdogan for welcoming a Saudi proposal to form a joint working group to discuss Mr Khashoggi's disappearance and said no one could undermine their relationship.

Europe's largest economies - Britain, France and Germany - said yesterday 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 $33bn (€28bn) of its value yesterday 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 [per day].

"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."

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 Turkish official told Reuters yesterday 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".

Irish Independent

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