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In Saudi Arabia, Mnuchin announces joint sanctions against terror sponsors with Taliban, Iran ties

Posted: 9:57 AM, Oct 23, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-23 11:57:44-04

The United States, along with seven Middle Eastern partners, including Saudi Arabia, slapped sanctions Tuesday on nine individuals supporting the Taliban regime at a joint meeting in Riyadh.

Several people sanctioned have ties to Iran, the Treasury Department said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with top Saudi leaders and other counterparts from the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait during a visit to the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, where they unanimously agreed to increase pressure on any persons providing support to the Iranian regime.

“The United States and our partners will not tolerate the Iranian regime exploiting Afghanistan to further their destabilizing behavior,” Mnuchin said in a statement released after the gathering. “Iran’s support to the Taliban stands in stark violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and epitomizes the regime’s utter disregard for fundamental international norms.”

Tuesday’s actions represent the third coordinated effort by the eight-member coalition since the center opened in May 2017. Treasury said the US government would continue to impose punitive measures until there is a negotiated peace settlement in Afghanistan.

Mnuchin has come under pressure during his six-country trip amid furious international pressure over the presumed murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents.

The secretary bowed out of a separate high-profile conference hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as top banking and finance executives reneged on their previous commitments to participate over deep concerns of Khashoggi’s disappearance. Still, the Treasury Department maintained as late as Monday that the secretary’s stop in Riyadh, which included a visit to the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, was necessary in preparation of Iranian sanctions that are set to kick in on November 4.

Last year, the US government opened the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center in Saudi Arabia to share information about combating terrorism financing, which the secretary has pledged to visit once a year. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are also members of the group.

Tuesday’s gathering of US and Middle Eastern leaders comes on the heels of meeting between Mnuchin and Mohammed bin Salman on Monday.

A photograph of the meeting between Mnuchin and the crown prince was posted on Twitter by the Saudi foreign ministry. The Treasury Department did not release its own photo of the Mnuchin-Prince Mohammed meeting in Riyadh, but did post photographs of his meetings with other top leaders in Israel and Jordan.

Tony Sayegh, Treasury Department spokesman, said Monday that Mnuchin and the crown prince discussed combating terrorism financing, implementing sanctions on Iran and the Khashoggi investigation.

Mnuchin’s trip to Riyadh follows Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip two weeks earlier to meet with the crown prince.

Questions over Khashoggi

The Saudi regime is under increasing pressure to provide an explanation for Khashoggi’s disappearance.

On Tuesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Khashoggi died as a result of a brutal premeditated murder, rejecting Saudi Arabia’s claim that the journalist was killed accidentally.

The Washington Post columnist was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, the day a Saudi hit squad allegedly arrived at the consulate. The Saudis on Friday said his death was an accident and say they continue to investigate

President Donald Trump said Monday he remains unhappy with the official Saudi explanation, but reiterated that he doesn’t want to suspend relations between the two countries, including a multibillion-dollar arms deal inked last year.

While the President has tried to refrain from spoiling economic ties with the Saudi government in recent days he’s offered fresh skepticism over an evolving explanation for Khashoggi’s death.

He told reporters on Monday he wasn’t pleased with Riyadh’s versions of events and that he was eagerly awaiting further details.

“I am not satisfied with what I heard,” Trump told reporters at the White House, echoing concerns the President has aired mostly in private. He has suggested that Saudi officials, including the crown prince, have not been fully transparent in explaining what happened to the dissident journalist and which officials were involved.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia offered an official account alleging the death came after an altercation inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The kingdom said Khashoggi died after a fistfight with a team of officials who were working to secure his return to Saudi Arabia. They said a full report on the kingdom’s intelligence services would come in a month.

Mnuchin told reporters on Sunday that it would be “premature” to discuss whether the United States would impose sanctions on the Saudi government in response to the Khashoggi’s death.