FILE PHOTO: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman looks on as he meets with French President Emmanuel Macron in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 9, 2017. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
CAIRO – 20 March 2018: No doubt, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, or as he likes to be called MBS, has a clear vision about the future of Saudi Arabia after quitting "addiction" to oil, as he says. He started with the gradual liberation of the Saudi society, the anti-corruption campaign that ended by the arrest of remarkable names of the royal family and finding other sources of income instead of oil.
But to promote this vision in the world, bin Salman had to be more open to the media, unlike his royal ancestors who were rarely interviewed by the western media; days before his historic visit to the US, MBS welcomed a team of the US network CBS to Riyadh to review his vision and ambitions regarding the old kingdom; the team accompanied him to places where he spends his day-to-day life.
Bin Salman tried to be accurate in his answers to the host Norah O'Donnell's questions, as he talked about the non-oil economic future of Saudi Arabia, the revolutionary changes he makes in the society, war in Yemen, the anti-corruption campaign and, of course, the cold war with Iran.
In an honest answer, the heir to the throne admitted that Osama bin Laden succeeded in creating a schism between the west and Middle East in 9/11, saying: "Osama bin Laden recruited 15 Saudis in the 9/11 attacks with a clear objective. According to the CIA documents and Congressional investigations, Osama bin Laden wanted to create a schism between the Middle East and the West, between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America."
The crown prince traced most of Saudi Arabia's problems to the year 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini established an Islamic theocracy next door in Iran. The same year, religious extremists in Saudi Arabia took over Islam's holiest site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca. In order to appease their own religious radicals, the Saudis began clamping down and segregating women from everyday life.
O'Donnell referred to the criticism bin Salman's government faced following the arrest of economists, clerics, and intellectuals in 2017; MBS promised to publicize the investigations' results to assure that all procedures were legal, saying: "We will try to publicize, as much as we can and as fast as we can, information about these individuals in order to make the world aware of what the government of Saudi Arabia is doing to combat radicalism".
"Saudi Arabia believes in many of the principles of human rights. In fact, we believe in the notion of human rights, but ultimately Saudi standards are not the same as American standards. I don't want to say that we don't have shortcomings. We certainly do. But naturally, we are working to mend these shortcomings."
He said that corruption was rampant in Saudi Arabia, given that $10-20 billion used to annually disappear from the budget. He added that he restored $100 billion from the Ritz Carlton princes.
Addressing the war in Yemen, MBS said: "The Iranian ideology penetrated some parts of Yemen. During that time, this militia was conducting military maneuvers and positioning missiles at our borders".
"I can't imagine that the United States will accept one day the presence of a militia in Mexico that launches missiles on Washington D.C., New York and LA, while Americans are watching these missiles and doing nothing."
The prince commented on the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, saying: "It is truly very painful, and I hope that this militia ceases using the humanitarian situation in order to draw the international community's sympathy. They block humanitarian aid in order to create famine and a humanitarian crisis."
He said that Iran is playing a harmful role by hosting the leaders of al-Qaeda, including the son of Osama bin Laden, the new leader of the terrorist group, who lives in Iran, and is supported by Iran, according to bin Salman.
When asked if it is a battle for Islam between KSA and Iran, MBS said "Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is stronger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia." He also called Ayatollah Khamenei "The new Hitler" of the Middle East.
"He [Khamenei] wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time. Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realize how dangerous Hitler was until it was too late. I don't want to see the same events happening in the Middle East," MBS said, adding that Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.
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