Saudi investment conference opens as Turkish president promises 'naked truth' about Jamal Khashoggi's death
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin meets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday amid ongoing consternation over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Ahead of the opening of a major Saudi investment conference, Prince Mohammed sat with Mr Mnuchin in Riyadh, where he stressed the importance of the US-Saudi strategic partnership, which according to the Saudi Foreign Ministry “holds an important role in the future in line with the kingdom’s Vision 2030”.
Vision 2030 is the crown prince’s ambitious plan to rebrand the kingdom as a modern economy, diversifying away from a reliance on oil revenue. A foundation of this vision is the Saudi investment conference, hosted by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund and billed as the “Davos of the Desert”.
The conference – which starts in Riyadh on Tuesday and was scheduled to host global business leaders and foreign representatives – has been overshadowed by revelations that a 15-man team killed the 59-year-old self-exiled Saudi writer in the Istanbul consulate on October 2 and later disposed of his body.
After over two weeks of denying any link to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Saudi authorities now say a “rogue operation” was carried out and led to the critic's murder. They say those responsible hid the facts from Riyadh and therefore the crown prince also had no knowledge of the “operation”. Saudi prosecutors are investigating the men believed to be responsible and say that they will be held responsible if the full facts show the men did indeed carry out Khashoggi's killing.
Several European governments say they remain unconvinced by the latest Saudi version of events, which has prompted a number of Western figures to pull out of the three-day conference. Business leaders including the chief executive of JPMorgan and Ford Motor chairman; media organisations including The New York Times and Bloomberg; and ministers from Britain, France and other countries have already pulled out.
However, regional figures, politicians and business leaders are still attending, Vice President of UAE and Ruler of DubaiSheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Jordan's King Abdullah, Pakistan's Imran Khan.
Top executives from Asia, including Japan’s SoftBank, South Korea’s Samsung as well as the likes of Citigroup, Raytheon, Mubadala, Investcorp, McKinsey, Roland Berger, Oliver Wyman, Glencore, and France’s Total are among those slated to attend.
“Davos in the Desert” has more than 150 speakers from 140 different organisations and 17 global partner entities.
Last week, Mr Mnuchin announced he would no longer attend the conference. But he said his decision to still travel to the kingdom was aimed at reinforcing ties at a critical moment. The US administration has defended Saudi Arabia's handling of the journalist's death and stressed the importance of Riyadh as a strong regional ally.
“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,” he told The New York Times.
Many western companies have too much at stake to abandon the Arab world’s largest economy, and will still send lower-level executives to the summit.
Turkish officials have expressed dissatisfaction at the reports from Riyadh and local media has kept up a steady stream of leaked information regarding Khashoggi's death, although almost all has come from unnamed Turkish sources. On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke publicly for the first time about what Turkish intelligence knows about events in the Saudi consulate.