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Saudi Arabia calls off annual diplomatic reception in Washington

Saudi embassy in Washington cancels annual National Day reception on 18 October without explanation
Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia in 2017 on his first foreign trip as US president (Reuters/File photo)

The Saudi embassy in Washington has cancelled its annual National Day reception without explanation, a move that comes amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

"Please be advised that the reception for the National Day of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Thursday, October 18, from 6:00 pm-8:00 pm has been cancelled," the embassy said in an email sent to guests on Monday and obtained by Reuters.

Earlier on Monday, Donald Trump announced that his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was heading to Riyadh to meet King Salman over the matter.

Pompeo will stop in Turkey after his trip to Saudi Arabia, the White House said.

"It is absolutely essential that Turkish authorities, with full and transparent support from the government of Saudi Arabia, are able to conduct a thorough investigation and officially release the results of that investigation when concluded," a White House spokesperson said, according to Reuters.

Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi royal family and columnist for the Washington Post, has been missing since visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

Turkish officials have accused Saudi agents of killing the journalist inside the consulate.

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Saudi officials have strongly denied any involvement in his disappearance and say that he left the consulate soon after arriving. However, they have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claim and say that video cameras at the consulate were not recording at the time.

'Rogue killers'

Trump also said in a tweet that Saudi Arabia's King Salman told him in a phone call that he had no knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.

The US president later appeared to suggest that "rogue elements" within the Saudi state may be behind Khashoggi's alleged murder.

"The denial was very, very strong," he told reporters at the White House. "It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?"

Chris Murphy, US Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described that theory as "ridiculous".

Other critics and commentators also dismissed Trump's assertion.

"Blaming 'rogue killers' for brutal Khashoggi murder makes our President look like a Saudi apologist living in an alternative reality—once again disregarding facts & demeaning American values," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal wrote on Twitter.

Last week, US lawmakers triggered a human rights law to compel Trump to investigate Kashoggi's disappearance and determine appropriate sanctions against people involved in potential wrongdoing.

The chairman and ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, Republican Ed Royce and Democrat Eliot Engel, also released a letter last week, urging Trump to "use all pressure necessary to encourage greater Saudi cooperation in the investigation" into Khashoggi's disappearance.

The lawmakers said it "appears highly likely" that Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

"Mr. President, we value our relations with Saudi Arabia. Yet murder and other blatant violations of international norms and agreements cannot be done with impunity," they said in the letter. "We look forward to hearing from you about any investigation on this matter and potential consequences."

Riyadh warns against US sanctions as groups back out of conference

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia warned Washington that it would retaliate against any US sanctions.

"The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures, or repeating false accusations," the official Saudi news agency, SPA, quoted an unidentified government source as saying.

"The kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom's economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy," the source added, without elaborating.

On Monday, Google became the latest company to drop out of a business conference set to take place in Riyadh next week as a result of Khashoggi's disappearance.

The company said in a statement that Google Cloud Chief Executive Diane Greene would not attend the Future Investment Initiative Summit.

Earlier in the day, private equity firm KKR also joined a growing list of individuals and companies boycotting the event.

Joseph Bae, co-president of KKR & Co LP, and David Petraeus, chairman of the KKR Global Institute, withdrew from the Future Investment Initiative conference, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. The Global Institute is a research organisation owned by KKR that supports its investment committees and portfolio companies.

Stephen Pagliuca, co-chairman at US private equity firm Bain Capital, also pulled out of the conference, a source told Reuters on Monday.

The New York Times, CNN, Financial Times, CNBC and Bloomberg have pulled out of the event over Khashoggi's disappearance.

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