Donald Trump has warned that Saudi Arabia will face “severe punishment” if the regime murdered Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who disappeared last week after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

In an interview with CBS News’ 60 Minutes, Mr Trump said the US was investigating the case of Mr Khashoggi, which he called “really terrible and disgusting”. Asked if Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Mr Khashoggi, he said the prince had denied that Riyadh played any role in the disappearance.

“It’s being investigated. It’s being looked at very, very strongly. We would be very upset and angry if that were the case. As of this moment . . . they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes,” Mr Trump told the CBS television programme. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment.”

Saudi officials say Mr Khashoggi went missing after leaving their consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday last week. But Turkey is investigating whether he was murdered inside the consulate by Saudi agents. The disappearance has sparked international outcry as governments and companies demand that Riyadh explain what happened to Mr Khashoggi, particularly since there was no sign of him leaving the consulate.

A growing number of speakers, sponsors and media partners, including the Financial Times, have withdrawn from the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, a Saudi Public Investment Fund event closely associated with Mohammed bin Salman.

The disappearance has intensified scrutiny of the crackdown on dissent in Saudi Arabia since Mohammed bin Salman became the crown prince last year.

There’s a lot at stake. And, maybe especially so because this man was a reporter

The list of people who have distanced themselves from Saudi business ventures as a result of the disappearance include Sir Richard Branson, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim and Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi. However, Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, this week said that he still planned to attend the Saudi investment conference, which is scheduled to take place in Riyadh on October 23

Mr Trump told 60 Minutes that Washington would soon learn what had happened to Mr Khashoggi. Asked what options were available to punish Riyadh if the regime was held responsible, he said he was reluctant to cancel arms deals that would hurt American defence companies and spur job losses in the US. But Mr Trump said there were other ways to sanction Saudi Arabia if the regime was held responsible in the case.

“I’ll tell you what I don’t want to do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that,” Mr Trump said. “There are other ways of punishing, to use a word that’s a pretty harsh word, but it’s true.”

Mr Trump, who repeatedly slams the media as “fake news” and incites anger towards reporters at his political rallies, said there was a “lot at stake” particularly since Mr Khashoggi was a journalist.

“There’s a lot at stake. And, maybe especially so because this man was a reporter,” he said. “You’ll be surprised to hear me say that, there’s something really terrible and disgusting about that if that was the case so we’re going to have to see.”

Earlier this week, a large bipartisan group of US senators, triggered an investigation into the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi under the Global Magnitsky Act — a move that could lead to the imposition of US sanctions on Saudi officials if any members of the regime are determined to have committed human rights abuses.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi

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