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Mnuchin to attend Saudi anti-terrorism finance meeting amid Khashoggi crisis

United States Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin speaks at the White House on July 31, 2017. (File Photo)

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will participate in a meeting to combat terrorism financing with government officials from Saudi Arabia and other Middle East partners in Riyadh this week.

Mnuchin confirmed in remarks Sunday during a stop in Israel that he would make the long-planned stop, despite pulling out of a high-profile investor conference, also in Riyadh, amid the ongoing controversy surrounding the death of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.

“I did not think it was appropriate to go and speak at this conference but we continue to have important issues with Saudi and that is why I am going there,” Mnuchin said, according to Reuters.

Mnuchin will be in Saudi Arabia on Monday and Tuesday, a source tells CNN.

Mnuchin is on a week-long, multi-country trip to the region, which includes stops in Jordan and Qatar as well as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In the wake of growing outrage over Khashoggi’s death, the secretary remained undecided on whether he would stick to his plan to attend a meeting at the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, a senior administration official told CNN on Thursday.

The US government opened the center in Saudi Arabia last year to share information about terrorism financing, which the secretary pledged to visit annually. The governments of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates are also involved.

Mnuchin’s travel plans have been widely seen as a benchmark of the administration response to the Saudi crisis. After days of taking a wait-and-see position, Mnuchin announced on Thursday his decision to withdraw from a separate high-profile investor conference in Riyadh hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a favorite of Trump and his son-in-law adviser Jared Kushner as well as of the international business community.

Top executives from the world’s largest banks, including JP Morgan Chase, HSBC, Societe Generale and Standard Chartered rescinded their plans to attend amid growing international outcry over the fate of Khashoggi, who was also a columnist for The Washington Post. They joined executives from Uber, Blackrock, and Ford who also pulled out of the summit.

Saudi Arabia confirmed on Friday that Khashoggi is dead. The government claims he died after an argument in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul escalated into a violent fist fight and physical altercation, according to an announcement on Saudi State TV. After the Saudis released their official statement, a source with close connections to the Royal Palace told CNN that the cause of death was a chokehold or strangulation during the altercation.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly said it’s important to maintain the US relationship with Saudi despite the Khashoggi episode.

“Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” the President said late Saturday in a Washington Post interview, his strongest comments yet on the case.

But he added that the US-Saudi alliance is a key counterweight to Iran’s influence in the region, and reiterated his stance that canceling a US-Saudi arms sales deal signed last year would only give other countries, specifically Russia and China, a chance to gain influence with the kingdom.

“I think it’s a very important ally for us,” Trump told the Post.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey both continue to investigate.