Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Sunday defended his decision to visit Saudi Arabia later this month despite the continuing turmoil following the killing of Washington Post columnist and activist Jamal Khashoggi.
Speaking during a stop in Jerusalem, Mnuchin said the United States’ strategic and economic relationship with the Saudis was too important to be put in jeopardy over Khashoggi’s killing.
“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 said Sunday, as The New York Times reported. “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.”
Khashoggi disappeared earlier this month after last being seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Turkish pro-government media had said for days that an official hit squad had traveled from Saudi Arabia to kill Khashoggi. That version differs from the account of Saudi Arabia, which said early Saturday that the writer died in a "fistfight."
Saudi Arabia said 18 Saudi suspects were taken into custody and intelligence officials were fired.
President Trump said Saudi Arabia's announcement that suspects were in custody marked a "good first step," though some U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hav said Saudi Arabia's account isn't credible and seems designed to exonerate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of any involvement despite widespread allegations that he was behind the killing.
Trump last week pulled Mnuchin from attending an economic summit in Riyadh this week that was being hosted by the crown prince, but the Treasury secretary still plans on attending an anti-terrorism summit in Saudi Arabia later this month.
“I’m sure I’ll be speaking with the president before I go there,” Mnuchin said. “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 Associated Press contributed to this report.