In Depth

Saudi vs. US: how will Jamal Khashoggi mystery end?

US companies pull out of Riyadh conference as UK, France and Germany ratchet up pressure on kingdom

Saudi Arabia has vowed to retaliate to threatened sanctions amid growing international criticism of the kingdom over the unsolved disappearance of journalist and prominent Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.

The row has seen leading global companies including Ford, J.P. Morgan and Uber pulling out of a conference in Riyadh later this month that had been dubbed “Davos in the desert”. The Saudi stock exchange has also been hit, with 182 of a total 186 listed stocks showing losses by early Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump, long seen as an ally of the Saudi regime, has warned of “severe punishment” if it is found to be behind the disappearance of Khashoggi, who went missing during a visit to the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Described by The Daily Telegraph as “a thorn in the side of [Saudi’s] autocratic ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman”, Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate on 28 September to pick up documents needed for his uncoming marriage. But a source told CNN this weekend that Turkish authorities claimed to have audio and visual evidence that show the journalist was tortured and killed in the embassy.

Saudi Arabia insists Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed, “but has failed to provide security camera footage to back up its claims”, says the Telegraph.

The French, German and UK foreign secretaries have ratcheted up the geopolitical pressure by releasing a joint statement calling on the Saudi government to give a complete and detailed account of events surrounding his visit, and has warned that those found to be responsible for his disappearance must be held to account.

In response, Saudi authorities said that they will hit back at any sanctions imposed and may take other countermeasures, including a possible oil production cut.

“The kingdom affirms that if it is [targeted by] any action, it will respond with greater action,” read a statement from the regime. It also pointed out that the oil-rich kingdom “plays an effective and vital role in the world economy”.

Should the kingdom make good on its warnings, “the repercussions could be felt around the world”, says The Guardian.

In an article published in a Saudi newspaper on Sunday, Turki Aldakhil, general manager of official Saudi news channel Al Arabiya, claimed that the crown prince is considering an oil production cut that could drive prices from around $80 (£60) a barrel to more than $400 (£300), more than double the all-time high reached in 2008.

“The truth is that if Washington imposes sanctions on Riyadh, it will stab its own economy to death, even though it thinks that it is stabbing only Riyadh,” Aldakhil wrote.

Nevertheless, the image of the Saudi Crown Prince has undoubtedly been tarnished by the Khashoggi mystery. No longer “the bold reformer bent on modernising his kingdom... [bin Salman] is now regarded as an impulsive, unreliable autocrat who falls back on crude tactics to crush dissent”, says The Washington Post.

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