West shows it still backs Saudi Arabia

Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a warm welcome in Riyadh on October 23 during his surprise visit to the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference.

The conference has yielded investment deals worth an estimated US$50 billion, despite calls for a boycott by activists and some countries over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. However, Saudi Arabia is proving to be too tempting an investment opportunity for many businesses despite the large public outcry.

FII was due to feature 150 speakers from 140 firms but around 40 people withdrew from the conference in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder.

Khashoggi, a journalist from Saudi Arabia, went into self-imposed exile to the United States after the Saudi crown prince began cracking down on dissidents. The Washington Post columnist visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and hasn’t been seen since.

Turkish authorities pushed for an investigation claiming that Khashoggi had been murdered by Saudi authorities. After denying allegations for weeks, Saudi Arabia officially confirmed Khashoggi’s death Friday saying that he died during a brawl. On October 20, the Saudi foreign minister said that it was a rogue operation and the crown prince had no knowledge of it.

Various companies, countries and media houses withdrew from the conference as a protest against the Saudi government.

Despite the boycott, the conference, a part of the kingdom’s 2030 Vision that aims to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and reduce its oil dependency, had many participants.

On October 23, the Saudi cabinet, after a meeting headed by King Salman, promised to hold to account those who were responsible for Khashoggi’s death and those who “failed in their duties” in a case that has provoked an international furore and strained ties between Riyadh and the West.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and senior ministers from Britain and France pulled out of the event, along with chief executives or chairmen of about a dozen big financial firms such as JP Morgan Chase and HSBC, and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

After initially stating he believed the Saudi account of Khashoggi case, US President Donald Trump for the first time suggested the crown prince and top Saudi officials may have been involved in the incident.

During the event, the Crown Prince announced a US$500 billion investment in construction of a city and business zone. State-owned oil giant Aramco said on October 23 that it had signed 15 agreements worth US$34 billion with companies including Total, Hyundai, and Halliburton. The company said these entities were from eight countries, including the US, Japan, China, India and the UAE.

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]