Branson Suspends Negotiations Over $1 Billion Space Investment From Saudi Arabia

Richard Branson at the Future Investment Forum in Saudi Arabia in October 2017. (Credit: CIC)

Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson said he is suspending discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which last year signed a memorandum of understanding to invest $1 billion in Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

Branson announced the decision amidst growing international concern over the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey. There are unconfimed reports that Saudi security officials murdered the dissident writer.

Branson also suspended his directorships in two Saudi tourism projects to be built around the Red Sea.

Branson’s full statement is below.

I had high hopes for the current government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and it is why I was delighted to accept two directorships in the tourism projects around the Red Sea. I felt that I could give practical development advice and also help protect the precious environment around the coastline and islands.

What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi Government. We have asked for more information from the authorities in Saudi and to clarify their position in relation to Mr Khashoggi.

While those investigations are ongoing and Mr Khashoggi’s presence is not known, I will suspend my directorships of the two tourism projects. Virgin will also suspend its discussions with the Public Investment Fund over the proposed investment in our space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

  • Robert G. Oler

    coming from a stay at home…thats pretty bold talk

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    It’s not the responsibility of neighboring states to absorb the displaced Palestinians. After what the PLO and Syria did against Jordan, why would any sane nation want to?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Bush 41 wanted the give the USSR room to gracefully fall apart, and did a masterful job. Clinton was an internationalist assuming he was dealing with other internationalists, when in reality he was dealing with a bunch of nationalists. So long as the US was willing to give in the form of engineering know how and access to the domestic US market, the nationalists were willing to take in exchange for their paper money, their accepting and use of dollars, and using the savings of their population to back American debt notes.

  • Robert G. Oler

    that is where people like you go when they are out of other thoughts

  • Robert G. Oler

    It will be interesting to see how history treats the presidential cycle between Bush41 and I suspect Trump who I think, (Hope) will end it

    In my view both Bush41 and Clinton the guy were “slouching” toward a post Cold War vision. Clinton steering the space stations to the Russians was a “clever” way to try and keep the program, which nearly died going…and also to geniunly try and affect Russian behavior

    the cuts in military spending, the reinvest ment at home…but most important the “world response” to things that both proctored was I thought clever. Bush in the STorm and Clinton in OAF (ie Kosovo) both had a way to excersize American leadership but with enormous world/European involvement.

    Then 9/11 came along and after that Bush43 grand vision (which he really had) floundered in the mideast and now Trump spewing his “we are special” rhetoric is deadly

    in the end we were slouching toward some unified measure of “direction” with opposition to patently outrageous behavior…which might have been the first (or more likely the third) move toward some coherence in the world

    well thats gone for now…and what is happening is that the American “empire” such as it is is bleeding to death and the Chinsese see a way for them to be the next “complete superpower”

    Its now going all the wrong direction for the US…and at some point when the trains the debt/paper money printing simply stalls out…watch out. it could make the 29 era look tame

  • Michael Halpern

    the real trick I think will be in trade and missed opportunities thereof, as well as cultural combat fatigue, no one wants to be left behind, and what trade they do get may encourage cultural shifts, unfortunately, it will be slow.

  • Michael Halpern

    The Saudis and Israelis have a common thread of heavy trade with “western block” nations, while Saudi Arabia has very outdated views on civil rights, culturally they are probably the second closest to western nations in the region behind only Israel, especially when you look at their industry. Working with Israel grants Saudis improved trade relations, working with Saudi Arabia grants Israel one less immediate threat and easier access to key strategic resources, its a win-win.

  • Robert G. Oler

    no. Americans will cut the Israelis off, there is majority support for that now

  • ThomasLMatula

    Nope, the most recent numbers from the polls does not support that statement. Direct from Gallup.

    “Sixty-four percent say their sympathies in the dispute lie more with the
    Israelis, tying the high previously recorded in 2013 and 1991.”

    “74% view Israel favorably, vs. 21% for Palestinian Authority”

  • Robert G. Oler

    thats one poll there are others…few Americans like us supporting the Israeli military we will see

  • ThomasLMatula

    To me this is the most glaring difference between the two nations. NASA and Israel have just signed an agreement on a joint Moon mission.

    Oct. 3, 2018, RELEASE 18-083

    NASA, Israel Space Agency Sign Agreement for Commercial Lunar Cooperation

    While Turkey, which is a member of the Moon Treaty is still holding a NASA engineer in jail.

    Johnson Space Center Scientist Sentenced to Seven Years in Turkish Prison

    By Dianna Wray 2/9/2018 at 4:30pm

    “Golge, his wife Kubra and their sons were visiting their family in Ankara when the uprising against Erdogan occurred in 2016. The push to oust Erdogan was quickly put down—so quickly, in fact, that many experts believe the whole thing might have been staged by Erdogan himself as an excuse to round up political opponents in the military and other parts of Turkish society, particularly members of a rival party, the Gülenists—and the couple, who have lived in the United States for more than a decade, becoming citizens in 2010, decided not to cut their trip short since none of the family was involved or even particularly political.”

    Any wonder NASA banned travel to Turkey for COSPAR?

    Letter From NASA Headquarters Regarding Travel Ban to COSPAR in Istanbul, Turkey
    June 21, 2016

    The travel warning is still in place for Americans at the State Department’s website.

    “Reconsider travel to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.”

    Robert, I pray you and your family stay safe as the Freedom House rating for Turkey is still falling.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, the Atlantic Magazine discusses the issue, and wording of the poll questions.

    How Not to Measure Americans’ Support for Israel

    “Americans are far more divided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than they are on Israel or the U.S.-Israel relationship—and so when Israel advocates and Israelis themselves use this poll question as a proxy for American support for Israel, they are not doing themselves any favors.”

  • Robert G. Oler

    dont be silly all democracies are under enormous stress because of right wing religious groups and that includes the US with a nut for President…a bigoted, racist, sexist nut

    “the Moon thing” is happening because the US is paying for it…thats all

    the coup was a CIA thing that went bad.

    you have no first hand experience in the region. my two young children have more than you do 🙂

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    What Bush 43 started was the destruction of Arab secular institutions and replacing them with nothing. Bush 41 knew not to do that. Saddam was the only thing sitting between the order that we had vs atomizing Arabian institutions to the level of the mosque. We had a dysfunctional national debate that said nation building was supposedly a failure. We of course ignored Germany, France, Japan, and S Korea. It can work. When we destroyed the secular institutions and refused to build a workable alternative we left the Arabs with the base of their society, the mosque. We put gasoline on the fire when we funded the Sunni Awakening (which would go on to join ISIL after it was created in US run prisons.). The Sunni Awakening needed to be pushed toward integration with the Iraqi Army and turning those militia into secular institutions. Now we keep playing whack a mole with ISIS/ISIL. ISIS is supposedly not in control of Raqa, however we keep hearing about them in Eastern Syria. Not to mention Libya. And the Egyptians cant seem to snuff it out in Sinai.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I agree with some of that but not all of it

    Nation building ONLY works when 1) a foreign power ha the moral imperative to galvinize its people to do it, 2) a foreign power has the moral imperative to “crush” “the established order, hang/kill all the people who were part of that order and more or less 3) banish it from history

    those times come along few and far between in history and they did not exist after 9/11. Or if they existed at all it was either to destroy OBL and AQ and or the Saudi government which funded it.

    Instead we chose to attack the institutions which first the British and French and then us the US had suppoprted for decades almost a century…and in fact created…we had no idea what to replace them with, because the countries in questinon Iraq, Syria and Libya are to immature for a jeffersonian democracy AND (MOST IMPORTANt) ARE NOT REAL COUNTRIES ANYWAY.

    they like the vast majority of the mideast are a collection of tribes assembled to be a country at the pleasure of the “Europeans” with no real cohesion as a country. Iranians and Turks think of themselves, no matter what ethnic background OR where they are in the country Iranins and Turks first and oh say in Turkey Armenian second

    Not in iraq and Syria and Libya (and I would add Saudi Arabia and other countries of the pennensiula)

    The British and French set the countries up (and we helped set Saudia Arabia up) where the minority runs the military and hence then is controllable by the foreign power. when we pulled that down, well every one went back to what they were…which was this or that tribe Sunni, this or that tribe Shia.

    its kind of like L of Arabia (or I would have made Gertrude Bell of Iraq) without good music.

    Foreign powers cannot fix this. They have to fix this domestically and that is happening now. Yes a lot of it is centered on religion, but for the most part 1) that is blow up of right wing American politicans and 2) overstated in reality…it is really all about local politics trying to find a support base that is larger than the politics.

    (Our God was on both the North and South side of our second civil war)

    I would disagree big time with your assessment of the Sunni situation. the failure in Iraq was not the Sunni’s but the failure was the Shia to go along with the deals that they made to get American troops to leave under Bush.

    as his term drew to an end Bush really wanted to bring American troops out, and the Iraqis wanted us out. We tried to negotiate (the current Sec Def was pushing this) deals which had power sharing between the Sunni and Shia…because the Sunnies more or less still controlled the army (a function of the Anbar awakening)

    I didnt give those deals all that long to last, and well they fell apart about 8 months into Obama’s term. The Shia assasinated almost all the Sunni army leadership (or the Sunni leadership left fearing assasination). The US under Hillary failed really to monitor the election all that well, which was a close thing anyway

    In large measure because Hillary had drifted toward Biden’s “two state solution” with iraq becoming Shia and Syria becoming Sunni, 9first of course you had to get rid of the Shia leadership)

    that had no chance of succeeding. now the entire “swatch” is more or less Shiaville with the Kurds (and Turks and now I see the US is patrolling with the Turks and Kurds)…northern Iraq/ Syria which is going to become Kurdistan.

    Where will the sunnis go? South of course. that is why the Iranians are fighting in yemen.

    I dont blame Obama (but do Hillary a bit) or Bush43…because once you are into the tar baby getting out is more important then how you leave the tar.

    The locals will settle this…but new maps for the mideast are coming…

    the key to stability int he region are Turkey and iran…which are emerging democracies…unlike anything else in the region

    Empires die hard. the French and British had to get stuck on the tar baby in Suex in 56 and to some extent the last 17 years have been our version of that…but our day as a Middle East Empire is ending….

    the question is can we survive as a super power at all now.

    (sorry I wrote my MS on Middle East Studies on this in 1995 🙂

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    And I’m not going to disagree with your overall thesis. The specifics I’ll save for a face to face should it ever occur. But your post raises points that, while I admit I have not gone too far out of my way to research, I’m disappointed I have not seen in any press, right, left, or analytical.
    * What are the tribes in the middle east?
    * What binds them together?
    * How do they make money?
    * How do they organize their militia?
    * How do they interact with existing states?
    The closest I could find was watching Al Sadder in Basra during the occupation. Then watching the Sunni Awakening get funded/armed, and then begin their absorption into ISIS after the Maliki admin started pushing them aside. I did find one map that was illustrative. It was a Sunni vs Shiite tribal map. The funny thing was I had just been looking at a water well and oil well map in another book, and darn it, the Sunni had all the water wells, and the Shiite tribes the oil wells. On the side I’ve been looking for any history of the region to find out if in the past the Sunni pushed the Shia into the regions with the fouled water wells due to oil deposits.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Why does the terrorist nature of the PKK rule out the fact that they’re helping form a nation in Northern Iraq? For the most part, national governments are formed from successful terror organizations.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Israel is trying to do with the Palestinians what the US did with the indigenous tribes and nation remnants that were here pre United States. The maximum extent of the reservations are set, now it’s a matter of whittling them away. Pre-wall it was a question if the Palestinians would be tolerated in Israel as a underclass to be exploited for cheap labor. That’s not going to happen for a while. So is it immoral what the Israeli nation is doing to the Palestinian nation? It’s as immoral as what the US did to the pre US natives. But just as essential. And the immorality is justified by outcome in the eyes of many Americans for various reasons, some silly some on a balance of outcomes. Israel today is a far better nation than Palestine would have ever been had Jordan, Syria, or Egypt ever let it exist in the absence of the creation of Israel.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Andrew. its all about understanding the culture and how it works into their religion

    its accurate for Arabs, people in Israel (I am reluctant to label them as Jewishsince we will now get into anti S) and even in the US.

    religion is a sub culture to “local tribalism”…ie the two or more or less integrated with each other. and that of course is further in the case of Islam divided into the Sunni/Shia thing which is “like” but different from the Protestent Catholic mix…ie they both worship the same guy and text but have some “domestic” differences…

    Tribalism in the Arab world is a mix of whatever sect of Islam AND the local regional differences (think North and South) here. A good example of this…is say in the call to prayer…I can pick out Sunni or Shia differences…and can tell the differences between say Saudi (Sunni) and Turkish (Sunni) calls to prayer…

    so what you have is local “groups” intermingling with their own “brand” of the religion. For instance all women in Saudi Arabia who are locals are covered or wear the Hijab or the very very rare here in Turkey and in Istanbul almost well never happens.

    the best comparision I can come up with (and I am not Catholic) but Irish Catholics are different then say US Southern CAtholics…

    they all have milita’s they all are worried about some other “group” coming in and taking their water, oil and farm land…and how they interact with the government is always tenuous. The governments in Iran and Turkey are really strong, but in Saudi Arabia there is a substance “religious police” influence

    the problem is trying to intergrate all this into a nation state motiff…and its hard particularly when Oil comes into it. How the foreign powers did this was by finding a leader in the minority (or creating a minority…aka the House of Saud) and governing through that and kind of turning a blind eye as to how they did it

    Turkey and iran are strong national governments…What makes Turkey unique is that Attaturk got rid of all the foriegn influence…and what makes the Mullahs strong in iraq…is that they got rid of the “quadgis” something no other Iranian government in the last century could do

    and if everyone agrees on anything, other than the minnorities who we lilke to rule, everyone in the region more or less wants the Europeans and Americans out of their governments.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I still want to see a list of tribes, an assessment of their identity, the nature of their economic power, the capabilities of their militia, and why and how they fight. 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    I will see if I can find my old paper on the subject…

    the PKK is not liked by anyone…even the Kurds in Erbil dont like them

    the PKK are a group of Kurds, probably less then 50K who believe that Kurdistan should include parts of turkey…not even the Kurdsin those parts of Turkey think that…the Kurdish persmergaa will eliminate members of the PKK wherever they find them (and blame it on someone else)

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Sure, but they did the heavy lifting of Kurdish independence during the latter Cold War era and were the most functional expression of Kurdish nationality against the Turks, Iraq, and Iran. The firebrands of many revolutions get nudged out by the folks who actually end up running the new nation and make it work. Sorta like a start-up company. If George Armstrong Custer were alive today, most Americans would wish he was killed at The Little Big Horn.

  • Robert G. Oler

    NO not really. The PKK has always been a very very small group and always an outlier. when Saddam was alive (peace be upon him) the Pershmerga took help from anyone, Much as the Kovoso Liberation Army was about to take help from AQ…but they have never had the same goals and never really did the PKK have critical mass

    without a doubt they the PKK are thugs, terrorist and basic outlaws. we tried to kill as many of them as possible in my time there. the only reason Trump liked them for awhile is that they would fight Assad…not well but they were the only group we could find who would. The pershmerga made their peace with Assad a long long time ago

  • Robert G. Oler

    Custer…is a complex person 🙂

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I remember the PKK back in the 80’s with respect to the raids they conducted in Iran. That’s when I found out who the Kurds were. They were the only Kurdish group I knew of until I started seeing the groups that rose up against Saddam in the late 80’s and into Desert Storm. I’m of course no expert, just remembering the news cycles from 35 years ago of what I would have read in newspapers of the day.