Saudi Arabia responds to US threats over missing journalist
SAUDI Arabia has issued a furious response to the West in the face of mounting international pressure over the disappearance of a Saudi journalist.
Prominent Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi vanished almost two weeks ago while visiting the kingdom's consulate in Turkey, sparking global outrage over speculation the Saudi government was behind his disappearance.
The Saudi kingdom rejected the accusations, warning yesterday it would "respond with greater action" to any threats of economic or political pressure from the West.
In a furious opinion piece published last night, Turki Aldakhil, general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel, warned the US "will stab its own economy to death" if it tried to impose sanctions.
Aldakhil warned such actions would cause oil prices to rise as high as $200 a barrel, drive the Middle East towards Iran and lead Riyadh to permit a Russian military base in the city of Tabuk.
"The information circulating within decision-making circles within the kingdom have gone beyond the rosy language used in the statement," Aldakhil wrote.
"There are simple procedures, that are part of over 30 others, that Riyadh will implement directly, without flinching an eye if sanctions are imposed," he said.
"If US sanctions are imposed on Saudi Arabia, we will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world."
He added: "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."
The statement from the world's top oil exporter came after the Tadawul stock exchange in Riyadh dropped by 7 per cent at one point during the week's first day of trading, with 182 of its 186 listed stocks showing losses by the early afternoon. The market clawed back some of the losses, closing down 3.5 per cent for the day.
Tensions between the kingdom and the United States have risen after President Donald Trump warned of "severe punishment" if the Saudis are proved responsible.
In an overnight 60 Minutes interview, the US leader said the consequences of Saudi Arabia being involved in Khashoggi's death would be "severe".
"There's something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that was the case, so we're going to have to see," Mr Trump said. "We're going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment."
He also said: "As of this moment, they deny it and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes."
He said it's "looking like" the Saudi journalist is dead.
But previously, Mr Trump has said "we would be punishing ourselves" by cancelling arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which his administration touted on his first overseas trip.
The sale is a "tremendous order for our companies," and if the kingdom doesn't buy its weaponry from the United States, they will buy it from others, he said.
Mr Trump said he would meet with Khashoggi's family.
France, Germany and the UK have also demanded a credible investigation, saying: "We encourage joint Saudi-Turkish efforts in that regard, and expect the Saudi Government to provide a complete and detailed response."
Britain and the US are also considering boycotting a major international conference in Saudi Arabia later this month.
KHASHOGGI'S PARTNER SPEAKS OUT
Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz has revealed how the couple spent their final morning together.
In a heartfelt New York Times piece that ran over the weekend, the doctoral student said the couple had been "cheerful" the morning they travelled to the consulate.
"We were going to browse appliances for our new home and meet with our friends and family members over dinner," she wrote. "When we arrived at the consulate, he went right in. He told me to alert the Turkish authorities if I did not hear from him soon."
She said the pair bonded over their "shared passion for democracy, human rights and freedom of expression" when they met at a conference in Istanbul.
"I had planned a party, inviting his closest friends to surround him with the love and warmth that he had missed," she wrote. "We would have been married now."
She also said Khashoggi saw himself as a "lonely patriot" who was "using his pen for the good of his country".
Of the Saudi Government, she said: "If the allegations are true, and Jamal has been murdered by the errand boys of Mohammed bin Salman, he is already a martyr.
"Oppression never lasts forever," she added. "Tyrants eventually pay for their sins."
She also addressed reports Mr Trump is seeking to invite her to the White House, saying: "If he makes a genuine contribution to the efforts to reveal what happened inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that day, I will consider accepting his invitation."
WHAT HAPPENED TO JAMAL KHASHOGGI?
Khashoggi was last seen walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, at 1pm on October 2, according to CCTV footage obtained by Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.
The Post contributor, who has penned articles critical of some of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's policies in the Arab and Western press, hasn't been seen since.
Turkish government sources said police believed he was killed inside - claims dismissed by Riyadh as "baseless".
While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded Saudi Arabia prove their assertion that the journalist left the consulate, he has so far refrained from giving credence to claims that Khashoggi is dead, saying he will wait for an official probe.
The journalist has been a vocal critic of Riyadh's intervention in the war in Yemen, and once compared the young prince to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Post column.
Analysts say the diplomatic tiptoeing by both Saudi Arabia and Turkey is a sign they fear the case could stoke increased tensions, cautious of further straining relations in the midst of power plays stemming from overlapping interests in the region.
- with wires