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Tillerson cautious on Saudi crackdown

Tracy Wilkinson, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that the mass arrests in Saudi Arabia by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are a matter of concern and should be watched carefully for broader repercussions throughout the region.

Tillerson, speaking to reporters onboard a flight from Beijing to Vietnam as part of President Donald Trump's Asia tour, struck a more cautionary note than his boss, who has expressed unconditional support for the de facto Saudi leader.

Tillerson told reporters he had spoken to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir, who allayed some of his concerns, but added: "How disruptive it's going to be remains to be seen."

Outside experts have cautioned that the unprecedented crackdown on scores of Saudi royals and prominent businessmen for alleged acts of corruption could send investors scurrying and stock markets crumbling.

"It raises a few concerns until we see more clearly how these particular individuals are dealt with," Tillerson said.

Tillerson also said Jubeir had assured him that Lebanon's recently resigned prime minister, Saad Hariri, was safe in Saudi Arabia and not being held against his will, as some reports have suggested.

Hariri's abrupt resignation also threatens to destabilize the region, leaving the militant group Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government, to take a more prominent role. Saudi Arabia and the United States consider Hezbollah to be an Iranian-controlled terrorist organization.

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