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Saudi Crown Prince: Region could rival Europe, if
March 24, 2018, 3:27 pm

In a marked departure from norms, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has openly fielded questions from the media, and appeared on CBS' '60 minutes' interview, during his current tour of the United States. The tour which is slated to extend for nearly three-weeks has already seen the young Saudi heir-apparent answering questions quite unambiguously, even  controversial questions that would have normally been expunged from any previous interviews with visiting Saudi leaders.

On Thursday, during his 75-minute meeting with The Washington Post paper,  Prince Mohammad spoke at length on a range of topics, including the fast-paced reforms that he is attempting to implement in the ultra-conservative kingdom, the ongoing war in Yemen, the Middle-East peace process, the Kingdom's nuclear plans and relations with regional arch-foe Iran.

Speaking on the last day of his four-day stay in the US capital, Prince Mohammad said that the prospects for economic growth in the Middle-East was such that it could easily rival Europe as an investment destination, provided a series of long-standing issues were amicably resolved.

With regard to the controversial plan to build several nuclear power plants in the Kingdom, the Crown Prince stated one of primary concerns expressed by the United States and others was with regard to using and enriching Saudi Arabia's own vast uranium reserves. With more than five percent of the known global uranium reserves, asking Saudi Arabia not to use its own reserves for its nuclear reactors would be tantamount to “telling us don't use oil”, said the Crown Prince. He allayed fears of any misuse of enriched uranium by adding that the US and others would be invited to put in place review and audit mechanisms to ensure that there were no misuses. On the issue of nuclear weapons, the prince was categoric in stating that Saudi Arabia would not hesitate to build nuclear weapons, once Iran came into possession of such weapons.

Clarifying on last October's wide-spread detention of several leading Saudi royals and businessmen on alleged corruption charges, Prince Mohammad said that it was solely a domestic issue and that there had been no foreign influence behind the arrests. The detentions were something that had been in the works for several years, and it just happens to have been implemented now, said the prince. Regarding his relations with Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior White House Advisor, the Crown Prince said that while “we work together as friends, more than partners” our relationship was “within the normal context of government-to-government contacts”.

Analysts believe the attention-grabbing discussions with media and high profile talks in Washington with President Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, are relatively side-shows in the young prince's visit to the United States. The high-point of his visit is likely to come in subsequent days, during visits to Boston, New York, Seattle, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and Houston, where he is expected to seek technological and educational assistance for his attempts to reform the country. In particular, the Crown Prince will try to woo investors and win their confidence in investing in the kingdom, especially in the long-anticipated Initial Public Offering of Saudi Aramco, the country's economic milch cow.

The nearly seven-decade long Israeli-Palestinian conflict also featured in the discussions in Washington. In his role as White House advisor and presidential-confident, as well as the man charged with pushing forward the peace process, Mr. Kushner is believed to have outlining a plan to which he would like Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab countries to sign on to. Though the official Saudi stance is that any peace agreement must recognize a Palestinian state within specified borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, the fact that other options are being aired reveals a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak peace process.

On the ongoing conflict in Yemen, where the Iran-backed Al Houthi militia continue to resist the Saudi-backed alliances' attempts to reinstate the internationally-recognized government, Prince Mohammad said, “There are no good options and bad options in Yemen. The options are between bad and worse.”

Elaborating on the reform efforts being initiated in the Kingdom, Prince Mohammad said that he is working hard to convince conservative religious leaders on the need for reforms, and that depriving women of their rights outside the home, including the right to drive, were discriminations that went against the Islamic doctrine. “I believe Islam is sensible, Islam is simple, and people are trying to hijack it,” he said.

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