US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday it was premature to comment on possible US sanctions against Saudi Arabia for the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi until an investigation into what happened had been completed.
Mnuchin said information so far on the investigation was “a good first step but not enough” as Riyadh faced international pressure to disclose what happened to Khashoggi, who disappeared after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
US President Donald Trump emphasised on Saturday that he was not satisfied with the Saudis’ handling of the case, further raising questions over whether he would act to impose sanctions on Saudi officials believed to be behind Khashoggi’s death.
Sanctions, possibly under the Global Magnitsky Act that targets individuals responsible for gross human rights abuses, would be a major step against a key US ally in the Middle East and the world’s No. 1 oil exporter.
“It would be premature to comment on sanctions and premature to comment on really any issues until we get further down the investigation and get to the bottom of what occurred,” Mnuchin told reporters in Jerusalem at the start of a Middle East visit.
Mnuchin confirmed that he would not attend a Saudi investment conference on Tuesday. However, he said he would visit Riyadh as planned for talks with his counterpart there on joint efforts towards countering terrorist financing and curbing Iran’s military and political influence.
“I did not think it was appropriate to go and speak at this conference but we continue to have important issues with Saudi and that is why I am going there,” Mnuchin said.
The Saudis have said they plan to move forward with the conference, scheduled for October 23-25, despite a wave of cancellations by high-profile business, government and media leaders.
The Riyadh visit, he said, was needed as Washington prepares to reimpose sanctions against Iran in early November after Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal between Tehran and six world powers that sought to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Mnuchin said he had no reason to believe Saudi Arabia would renege on commitments to make up for any shortfall in global oil supplies as Iranian oil exports are cut under the sanctions.
“I have no reason to believe that they are not going to honor those commitments,” said Mnuchin, who will meet Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih while in Riyadh.
Asked whether he would deliver a message to Saudi officials over the Khashoggi case while in Riyadh, Mnuchin said: “I’m sure I will be speaking to the president before I go there, and if he has a message he wants me to deliver I will obviously deliver it, but it is not the focus of my trip.”