US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin quietly meets Saudi crown prince, as Khashoggi murder outcry rages on
- Monday’s meeting went unannounced by the US Treasury Department – but a photo was released by the Saudi foreign ministry
- Prince Mohammed bin Salman used the meeting to ‘stress the importance of the Saudi-US strategic partnership’
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday, illustrating how the White House is retaining close ties with the embattled Middle Eastern leader despite a growing international outcry.
A photograph of the meeting was posted on the Saudi Arabian foreign ministry’s Twitter page. In a caption, the Saudi government wrote that bin Salman in the meeting “stresses the importance of the Saudi-US strategic partnership, where it holds an important role in the future in line with the Kingdom’s #Vision2030.”
A Treasury Department spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Mnuchin last week announced he was withdrawing from a conference in Saudi Arabia this week, amid the international backlash following the apparent murder of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi died at the Saudi consulate in Turkey earlier this month, though the Saudi Arabian government has given conflicting reports on how he died.
Tony Sayegh, Mnuchin’s top spokesman, wrote his own Twitter post on Monday but did not specifically reference the gathering with the Crown Prince.
“To make clear @stevenmnuchin1 cancelled his speaking engagement at Saudi investment conference. He is in Saudi (as part of 6 country Middle East trip) visiting the Terrorist Financing Targeting Centre and having meetings in preparation for Iran sanctions,” Sayegh wrote.
During the trip to the Middle East, Mnuchin has posted multiple photographs of his meetings with leaders from Israel and Jordan. But he did not post any photograph or statement about meeting with the Crown Prince.
President Donald Trump has sought to tamp down growing criticism of the Saudi royal family in the wake of Khashoggi’s death, but he’s under growing pressure from Republicans in Congress to respond.
Even though Mnuchin said he wouldn’t attend a financial conference in Riyadh, he decided he would still travel to Saudi Arabia this week for other meetings. He was scheduled meet with his Middle Eastern counterparts to discuss ways to combat terror financing, but he did not announce in advance that he would be meeting with the Crown Prince.
Mnuchin’s meeting with the Crown Prince comes just two weeks after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also travelled to Riyadh to meet with the Crown Prince. Trump has sought to shield the Crown Prince from the backlash over Khashoggi’s death, saying the Royal family claimed they had no knowledge of what might have been a rogue operation at the consulate.
Trump has also said he didn’t want this to potentially spoil the close economic ties between the US and Saudi Arabia, particularly Saudi Arabia’s commitment to buy arms from US companies.