(CNSNews.com) – Under fire over the disappearance of a prominent writer, Saudi Arabia in a sharply-worded statement Sunday warned it would retaliate for any sanctions that it may face – but then in a later tweet its embassy in Washington seemed keen to soften the tone.
Meanwhile an array of Arab and Islamic allies lined up to express “solidarity” with the kingdom, their messages focused more on praising Saudi Arabia’s place in the world than on the troubling but still unproven claims that a leading critic of the regime was murdered inside its consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
President Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that his administration would be “very upset and angry” if allegations that the Saudi government was responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing proved to be correct.
He reiterated his reluctance to place in jeopardy a $110 billion arms deal with Riyadh and the associated jobs, but said there were “other ways of punishing.”
“We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment,” Trump said.
The British, French and German foreign ministers said in a joint statement their governments were treating Khashoggi’s disappearance “with the utmost seriousness.”
“There needs to be a credible investigation to establish the truth about what happened, and – if relevant – to identify those bearing responsibility for the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, and ensure that they are held to account,” said Jeremy Hunt, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Heiko Maas.
“We encourage joint Saudi-Turkish efforts in that regard, and expect the Saudi Government to provide a complete and detailed response.”
The Saudi government in a statement Sunday said it rejected “any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures, or repeating false accusations.”
The statement, issued through the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), added that any such action would be responded to “with greater action,” and cautioned that the Saudi economy had “an influential and vital role in the global economy.”
It described the Saudi government and people as “steadfast [and] glorious as ever, no matter whatever the pressures and circumstances might be.”
The statement also praised Muslim allies for voicing support “in the face of the campaign of false allegations and falsehoods.”
Later, however, the Saudi embassy in Washington posted a tweet evidently designed to placate the United States.
“To help clarify recently issued Saudi statement, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia extends its appreciation to all, including the U.S. administration, for refraining from jumping to conclusions on the ongoing investigation,” it said.
Saudi King Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to a joint investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance, but Turkish officials have alleged for days that the writer – a U.S.-based self-exiled critic of current Saudi policies – was murdered after entering the consulate in Turkey’s biggest city early this month. The Turks claim to have video and audio evidence.
Another prominent Saudi journalist, Turki Aldakhil, published an opinion piece warning that “[i]f U.S. sanctions are imposed on Saudi Arabia, we will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world.”
Aldakhil, general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, said oil prices could jump to $100-200 a barrel, “or even double that figure.”
(Brent crude has been trading around $81 a barrel, and U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate futures around $72.)
Aldakhil predicted that a rift with the U.S. could have other repercussions, including putting Saudi arms sales at risk and ending intelligence cooperation..
He suggested the kingdom could allow Russia to establish a military base, and that a dispute with the West could end up pushing Saudi Arabia and the Arab world closer to Russia – and even improve ties with Iran, currently a bitter foe of Saudi Arabia.
Although his column cited “Saudi sources who are close to the decision-makers” Aldakhil later tweeted that it did not reflect the government “official position” but was merely a personal opinion.
Saudi Arabia has won support from neighbors and governments further afield, with statements issued by the official news agencies or government ministries of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority, among others.
Also weighing in were the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises Saudi Arabia and five of its neighbors, the 22-nation Arab League, the Arab Parliament, the Muslim World League (MWL), and the secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the bloc of 57 mostly Muslim-majority states.
The statements of support largely focused on Saudi Arabia’s leadership and status in Islam, while characterizing the Khashoggi allegations as a politically-driven smear campaign.
“The position of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its centrality in international relations make it above suspicions promoted by the media,” declared OIC secretary-general Yousef Al-Othaimeen.
SPA quoted Arab Parliament speaker Mishaal bin Fahm Al-Salam as saying that the “misguided campaign will not harm the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its Arab and Islamic status as the bastion of revelation, the Muslim Qabalah [the direction towards which Muslims pray], and its pivotal role in preserving Arab national security.”
MWL secretary-general Muhammad Bin Abdul Karim Al-Isa said Saudi Arabia’s “honorable history in the record of international peace and cooperation testifies to its pioneering status.”
He said the allegations were provoking “the feelings of hundreds of millions of Muslims” who stand with Saudi Arabia.
(The 56-year-old Mecca-based MWL is accused of spreading the kingdom’s strict Wahhabi brand of Islam through schools and mosques abroad. It also has a record of religious bigotry, and support for the Palestinian “jihad” against Israel.)