The CEO of the Future Investment Initiative (FII), the organiser of the "Davos of the Desert" Saudi investment conference said on Monday that US government officials will not be invited to attend the event at the end of this month. The reason, added Richard Attias, is so that the event does not turn into a "political platform".
The decision not to invite US officials, unlike previous years, comes amid rising tension between Washington and Riyadh over the recent decision by the Saudi-led OPEC+ group to reduce oil output by 2 million barrels per day, starting in November.
Saudi Arabia has rejected US accusations of siding with Russia in its war on Ukraine by reducing oil output to raise oil prices. A number of Saudi senior officials insisted that the OPEC+ decision was "purely economic".
Attias was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that up to 400 CEOs of US companies are expected to participate in this year's programme. The three-day conference scheduled to begin on 25 October in Riyadh, usually attracts Wall Street giants and high-ranking officials from around the world.
Steven Mnuchin, who served as Treasury Secretary under former US President Donald Trump, addressed the conference in 2017, before announcing his withdrawal from the event the following year, amid global outrage over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Last year's conference was attended by Don Graves, deputy secretary of commerce under current US President Joe Biden.
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"We are not inviting too many politicians," explained Attias, "because I realised that when you have political leaders on stage, the attention of the media, let's be very frank, is diverted to the political agenda, and we don't want the FII to become a political platform."
However, in an earlier press conference, the initiative's CEO said that at least "12 ministers of economy and finance" will attend this year's programme, with the possibility of inviting heads of state. "We will know in a few days who are the heads of state who are 100 per cent sure to attend."
The FII is not linked officially to the Saudi government, but the annual conference in Riyadh is linked to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the country's de facto ruler.
Attias said that he does not expect the dispute between Riyadh and Washington to affect the conference this year. "There is no effect at all," he insisted. "On the contrary, we see more demand from the private sector in the United States to attend the FII."