“I am planning on going at this point. If more information comes out and changes, we could look at that, but I am planning on going,” Mnuchin told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in an interview on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting of foreign finance chiefs and central bankers here.
Mnuchin’s comments came as top executives and political leaders, as well as corporate sponsors, have dropped out of the conference, sometimes referred to as “Davos in the Desert,” and scheduled to be hosted by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in in Riyadh later this month. CNN announced Friday that it would join the New York Times and others in canceling its partnership of the event.
The Trump administration, which has pursued a close relationship with the Saudis, is facing increasing pressure by Congress to cut military support, immediately halt arms sales and impose sanctions against the Saudi government over Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who has been missing for more than a week after going to the Saudi consulate general in Istanbul.
Turkish officials believe he was killed at the consulate, an allegation denied by Saudi Arabia.
“We are concerned about what the status is of Mr. Khashoggi,” Mnuchin said on CNBC, adding that other administration officials have had direct conversations with the Saudi government on the issue.
“We all want information. Let’s wait and see what information comes out in the next week,” Mnuchin added.
His comments echoed the cautious stance taken by other top administration officials. In an interview released Friday, national security adviser John Bolton told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt: “We need to find out what the facts are, and we need to get this resolved quickly, because if it is another operation, people need to understand that. I think the Saudis themselves are being damaged, because we don’t have the facts out.”
This is the second year in a row that Mnuchin has attended the two-year-old Saudi conference. His public appearance is set to coincide with a nearly week-long trip to the region, which includes stops in Israel, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar. During the pre-scheduled visit, the secretary is expected to meet with government officials to discuss terrorist financing and other national security issues, according to a Treasury spokesman.
“Saudi has been a very good partner of ours,” said Mnuchin on CNBC. “I have committed to go back once a year and that’s a major focus of my trip.”
Mnuchin’s comments come as Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called for a tough stance against the Saudis in light of Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on “Newsroom” Friday that Mnuchin should seriously reconsider attending, and if it were him, he wouldn’t go.
“What we have to do is take a pause here and complete the assessment with our strong intelligence partner, Turkey, and get to the bottom of not only what happened but who was responsible and then hold them responsible,” Turner said.
Last year, the US government opened a joint center to combat terrorist financing with the Saudi government five months after Trump’s trip to the region. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Quarter and UAE are also members of the group and have agreed to share information about terrorism financing.
The secretary met with a dozen counterparts on the sidelines of the Indonesia summit this week, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and the head of China’s central bank.
A Treasury spokesman declined to elaborate further on the secretary’s talks with the Saudi government, which were held on Thursday.
For now, the Trump administration has said there are still too many unknowns to draw conclusions about what happened. And Trump has made clear he has no plans to halt a multibillion-dollar arms deal brokered last year.
“What good does that do us?” Trump said to reporters from the Oval Office.
“I would not be in favor of stopping a country from spending $110 billion — which is an all-time record — and letting Russia have that money and letting China have that money,” said Trump.
That hasn’t stopped corporations from pulling back its financial ties with the Saudi government.
British billionaire Richard Branson reneged on two tourism projects and has suspended talks with the Saudi government about a $1 billion investment in Virgin’s space companies.
“What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government,” Branson, the founder of the Virgin business empire said in a statement.
Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said he would no longer attend the event unless substantially different set of facts emerge. Viacom’s CEO Bob Bakish, a speaker at the conference, has also opted to skip the event.
CNN’s Rachel Ventresca and Haley Draznin contributed to this report.