Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has decided to take part in an anti-terrorism finance meeting with Saudi security officials and their Middle Eastern counterparts in Riyadh later this month, opting to attend despite growing global outrage over the suspected murder of a U.S.-based journalist at the hands of Saudi operatives, according to three people familiar with his travel plans.
The security gathering next week is separate from a Riyadh financial summit that Mnuchin announced on Thursday he would not attend. Numerous other Western officials and corporations have pulled out of the “Davos in the Desert” financial summit because of the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.
The event Mnuchin still plans to attend — a gathering of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center in Riyadh — would include participation by Saudi security services that are under scrutiny in Khashoggi’s death.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the presumptive king and one of Trump’s closest allies in the region — is under growing pressure to explain the disappearance of Khashoggi, who U.S. intelligence officials believe was killed and dismembered by a Saudi “murder team” inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2. He has not been seen since.
The White House has been hesitant to criticize Saudi Arabia, although President Trump acknowledged for the first time Thursday that Khashoggi was probably dead.
In announcing his withdrawal Thursday from the financial summit, called the Future Investment Initiative, Mnuchin said he reached the decision with the help of Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Mnuchin did not give a reason for pulling out of the conference, but he was under growing pressure from congressional Republicans not to attend as it could have been seen as a sign the Trump administration was not concerned about the alleged killing. He joins an exodus of government officials and corporate titans who have announced their withdrawal from the summit, including Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Bill Ford of Ford Motor Co. and AOL founder Steve Case. Fox Business also announced its departure after Mnuchin’s announcement Thursday.
Financier Tom Barrack, a friend of the president with deep ties in the Middle East, has also dropped out of the conference, a person familiar with the matter confirmed Friday.
The Terrorist Financing Targeting Center is a new entity co-founded by the United States and Saudi Arabia that Mnuchin helped establish last year. It includes the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Trump administration officials have not revealed who Mnuchin plans to meet with from the Saudi government during his visit.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) criticized Mnuchin’s planned Saudi visit Friday. “It is unconscionable for @stevenmnuchin1 to stand beside the Saudi government after the likely murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This administration is emboldening lawless dictators around the world,” he wrote on Twitter.