Twenty-two U.S. senators last Wednesday forced a U.S. investigation of whether human rights sanctions should be imposed over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it would retaliate to possible economic sanctions taken by other states over the case of Khashoggi, the state news agency SPA reported quoting an official source.
The kingdom will respond to any measure against it with bigger measures, the source said, adding: "The Saudi economy has vital and influential roles for the global economy."
Saudi Arabia has been under pressure since Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Riyadh and a U.S. resident, disappeared on October 2 after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
On Sunday, Riyadh vowed to hit back against any action. “The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether through economic sanctions, political pressure or repeating false accusations,” it said.
“The kingdom also affirms that if it is [targeted by] any action, it will respond with greater action.” The statement also pointed out that the oil-rich kingdom “plays an effective and vital role in the world economy”.
The Saudi response came after the Tadawul exchange in Riyadh dropped by 7% at one point on Sunday, the week’s first day of trading in Saudi Arabia, with 182 of its 186 listed stocks showing losses by early afternoon. The market pulled back some of the losses, later trading down 4%.
Business leaders as well as media companies including Bloomberg and CNN have pulled out of an investment conference next week in Riyadh, dubbed “Davos in the desert”.
The belligerence of the statement is likely to anger those US senators already pressing for the Trump administration to take tough economic action against Riyadh, including sanctions.
"The kingdom confirms its categorical rejection of any threats and attempts to harm it by threatening to impose economic sanctions or the exercise of political pressure," the official added without elaborating.
Twenty-two U.S. senators last Wednesday forced a U.S. investigation of whether human rights sanctions should be imposed over the disappearance of Khashoggi.
In a letter, the senators said they had triggered a provision of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act requiring the president to determine whether a foreign person is responsible for a gross human rights violation.
The Global Magnitsky Act requires a report within 120 days of the letter with a decision on the imposition of sanctions on anyone deemed responsible for a serious rights violation such as torture, prolonged detention without trial or extrajudicial killing of someone exercising freedom of expression.
President Donald Trump said in a CBS interview on Saturday that there would be "severe punishment" for Saudi Arabia if it turns out that missing Saudi journalist Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Asked whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave an order to kill him, Trump said "nobody knows yet, but we'll probably be able to find out." Trump added in excerpts of the "60 Minutes" interview that will air on Sunday "we would be very upset and angry if that were the case".
"We're going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment," Trump said.
Trump has not described what punishment Saudi Arabia might face. He has indicated Washington does not want to harm close defense ties, saying the United States would be punishing itself if it halted sales of military equipment to Riyadh.
The information circulating within decision-making circles within the kingdom have gone beyond the rosy language used in the statement and discuss more than 30 potential measures to be taken against the imposition of sanctions on Riyadh. They present catastrophic scenarios that would hit the US economy much harder than Saudi Arabia’s economic climate.