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- Actor Gerard Butler said Monday that he canceled a trip to Saudi Arabia after the disappearance of a Saudi journalist in Turkey.
- Butler joins a number of business leaders who have in recent days pulled out of an upcoming conference in the country.
- Despite growing backlash against Saudi leadership, the Trump administration has not distanced itself from Riyadh.
During visit to the Pentagon on Monday to promote an upcoming movie, Gerard Butler told reporters he canceled a trip to Saudi Arabia after the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to get documents needed for his wedding and hasn’t been seen since.
“When I woke up in the morning before we were supposed to go to Saudi Arabia, we were informed of what was happening, and it just didn’t feel like a good time to be getting involved with that,” Butler told reporters.
“It would’ve felt incredibly insensitive to go to Saudi Arabia, even though I felt very badly for the … Saudi film company, because they did all their work in good faith for us, and there were a lot of fans ready to come, but it just didn’t seem like a situation that we would want to get into.”
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Turkish officials have alleged that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in the consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto leader, have denied involvement.
On Monday, however, The New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia was preparing an alternate explanation and may soon claim that Khashoggi died inadvertently during interrogation.
President Donald Trump has also distanced the Saudi government from the incident, touting on Monday the “very strong” denial made by King Salman, the crown prince’s father, and suggesting “rogue killers” were responsible.
Butler said on Monday that he was planning to meet with the crown prince during his visit, and, like Butler, a number of other business leaders and officials have also pulled out of trips to the country in the wake of Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The CEOs of HSBC, Credit Suisse, and Standard Chartered have said they won’t be attending the Future Investment Initiative, an investment conference known as “Davos in the Desert” that the Saudi government has used to attract investors.
The CEOs of Uber and Viacom dropped out last week, followed by counterparts from JPMorgan Chase, BlackRock, Mastercard, and Ford on Monday.
Business leaders and actors have different relationships with foreign countries than do national governments, but the Trump administration has not distanced itself from or criticized Riyadh, even as congressional leaders promise action if the Saudi government is responsible for the disappearance.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that while the administration was “concerned about the status” of Khashoggi, he would still attend the conference.
“I am planning on going at this point,” he said during an appearance on CNBC. “If more information comes out and changes, we could look at that, but I am planning on going.”
Trump, who dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to meet with the crown prince, has also said it would be “foolish” to scrap a raft of arms deals worth $110 billion that the US signed with Saudi Arabia. (A number of those deals are yet to be finalized.)
Trump said the US “would be punishing ourselves” by canceling those deals because Riyadh could partner with Russia or China, even though such a switch would take years to carry out.
The US president also repeated Mohammed bin Salman’s denial on Monday.
“Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate,” Trump tweeted. “He was with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the call, and told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly.”
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