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Treasury Secretary Mnuchin backs out of Saudi conference amid Khashoggi situation

Last Updated Oct 18, 2018 12:41 PM EDT

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will not attend the Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as questions linger about what happened to journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Mnuchin and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced on Twitter Thursday. But Mnuchin cited no reason for backing out. 

Mnuchin tweeted the decision after meeting with President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who just returned from Saudi Arabia and Turkey to speak with their leadership about what happened to Khashoggi. Mnuchin and the Trump administration had endured criticism this week because Mnuchin was still on track to attend the conference when many well-known private sector entities had canceled their attendance. 

The conference, hosted by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is known by the nickname "Davos in the Desert." Focused on global markets and the economy, the typically widely attended conference has been billed as part of the country's attempts to modernize.

Pompeo and the Trump administration as a whole have been careful to avoid judgment on the Saudis, and emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. 

"I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that so that we too have a complete understanding of the facts surrounding that at which point we can make decisions about how or if the United States should respond to the incident surrounding Mr. Khashoggi," Pompeo told reporters after meeting with Mr. Trump Thursday. 

"I think it's important for us all to remember too, we have a long, since 1932, a long strategic relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Pompeo continued. "They continue to be an important counterterrorism partner. They have custody of the two holy sites. They are an important strategic alliance of the United States, and we need to be mindful of that as well."

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.