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US's Mnuchin to lead 5-nation trip, including controversial Saudi event

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Washington (AFP)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will lead a US delegation next week on a five-country tour of the Middle East and India, including attending a Saudi investment conference he boycotted last year over the gruesome murder of a journalist, officials said Friday.

American officials will use the trip to increase pressure on Iran and strengthen economic ties with allies, the Treasury Department said in a statement, which confirmed prior AFP reporting that Mnuchin would attend the Saudi conference.

US-based dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was strangled and dismembered at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.

The global fallout over the killing rendered Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the Arab world's most powerful throne a pariah, testing old alliances with Western powers.

The CIA has reportedly concluded that the prince, who controls all major levers of power in the Saudi government, likely ordered the killing.

Prominent figures and officials from the around the world dropped out of Saudi Arabia's so-called Future Investment Initiative last year, amid international outrage over the murder.

Mnuchin will be accompanied by top Treasury officials and Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law, in a trip that also will include stops in Israel, the United Arab Emirates, India and Qatar.

"We look forward to engaging with our partners across the Middle East and in India to confront Iran's malign and destabilizing influence," Mnuchin said in the statement.

He also said US officials would work on collaboration in countering terrorism financing networks and improving economic conditions.

Mnuchin and Kushner will be joined by Brent McIntosh, Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, and Marshall Billingslea, assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes.

In India, Mnuchin will attend a bilateral economic meeting amid sometimes tense relations.

Trump has lashed out at India, accusing the giant Asian economy of unfairly blocking American products. Washington stripped India of benefits which allowed some duty-free access to the US market, and India hit back with tariffs on some US agricultural exports.

US officials also have lobbied strongly to persuade Delhi not to give a slice of India's coming 5G communications network to Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, a company Washington accuses of violating US sanctions on Iran and also deems a tool of electronic espionage by Beijing.

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