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US's Mnuchin, Fox Business Network pull out of Saudi investment conference

Long list of government officials, business leaders and media groups have withdrawn from event, dubbed 'Davos in the Desert'
US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is latest high-profile figure to drop out of Saudi event after disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (Reuters/File photo)

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is the latest high-profile figure to drop out from a Saudi investment conference scheduled for next week in Riyadh, as pressure continues to mount on Saudi leaders to explain what happened to prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The secretary said he decided to withdraw his participation at the conference, dubbed "Davos in the Desert", after a meeting with US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Fox Business Network also announced on Thursday it was also pulling out of the investment conference, joining CNN, the New York Times, CNBC, Bloomberg, the Financial Times and other media groups that have already cancelled plans to go to Riyadh.

"FOX Business Network has cancelled its sponsorship and participation in the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia. We continue to seek an interview with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman," the network said in a statement.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, UK Trade Minister Liam Fox and Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra also pulled out of the conference earlier in the day, while Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said a trade mission planned for December to Saudi Arabia likely would not go ahead, either.

Earlier this week, Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said she would also not be going to the event.

Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic of the Gulf kingdom and prominent columnist for the Washington Post, was last seen on 2 October when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to sort out paperwork.

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.

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Since Khashoggi disappeared, the White House has been under pressure to reevaluate its longstanding relationship with the Saudis, and especially with the country's powerful Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

US leaders, including President Donald Trump, have asked people to give Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt, stressing this week that the Gulf monarchy is an important partner in the US's fight against terrorism.

US officials have also avoided answering questions about what happened to Khashoggi by saying they are waiting for the results of a Saudi investigation into the matter.