Mnuchin defends decision to attend Saudi Arabia summit amid crisis

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Sunday defended his decision to attend an anti-terror summit in Saudi Arabia despite the international outrage over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death, saying the two countries must continue to maintain their ties.

“We have an important relationship with Saudi, focused on combating terrorist financing and focused on our common interests of stopping Iran’s spread of both terrorism and other issues,” Mnuchin told the New York Times. “I am going to go there and meet with my counterparts and continue to focus on what’s in the Treasury’s domain, as it relates to this issue.”

Mnuchin announced last week that like many Western businesses and executives he would pull out of an investment summit known as “Davos in the Desert” that was organized by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman because of Khashoggi’s disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

But he said he would attend a meeting next week at the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center in Riyadh, a gathering that would include members of the Saudi security community that has come under scrutiny since Khashoggi, 60, vanished on Oct. 2.

Khashoggi, a Saudi-born journalist whose writings for the Washington Post were critical of the crown prince’s government, had been living in the United States over the past year because of a crackdown on dissidents in the kingdom.

Mnuchin said it would be “premature” to even discuss imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia until more information comes to light.

He said he would talk with President Trump before heading to the anti-terror meeting, but didn’t expect a lecture on human rights abuses was on the schedule.

“I’m sure I’ll be speaking with the president before I go there,” he told the newspaper while in Israel. “If he has a message that he wants me to deliver, I will obviously deliver it. That is not the focus of my trip.”

The Saudi ruling family said Khashoggi died after he got into a fistfight with Saudi security officials after entering the consulate in Istanbul.

Turkish officials said they have audio and video proof that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered.

They say a 15-person team, including a number of security officials, arrived in Turkey on two private planes from Riyadh the same day Khashoggi disappeared.

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