Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared on the TIME cover page this week; the magazine described him as the prince who may change the Middle East. In a 75-minute interview with TIME magazine, Salman discussed several issues, most notably the Saudi economic ambitions, Syrian dilemma, Yemen, Iraq and the Palestinian case.
Salman denied buying Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.” However, he admitted that he loves art, adding, “I believe any human with good taste must admire art and there are a lot of good artists around the world, I can’t say that this is my favorite.”
The 32-year-old prince stressed that Iran does not represent all Shiites, and accused the Iranian regime of being the “cause of problems in the Middle East.” He warned that if the Iranian regime is not watched, it will turn into a threat to the Saudi Kingdom. “They [Iran] are not a big threat to Saudi Arabia. But if you don’t watch it, it could turn into a threat.”
Salman affirmed that the Arab coalition in Yemen only targets terrorists, emphasizing, “Until today they [Yemenis] didn’t ask for soldiers on the ground.” He manifested that the Arab coalition has been helping the Yemenis and supporting their legitimate president to be recognized by all countries around the world.
He did not deny making mistakes in Yemen, but he stressed that “any mistakes made by Saudi Arabia or the coalition are unintended mistakes.” Salman warned if the UN Security Council and international community do not back the Yemeni legitimate president and leadership, Yemen will be divided into two terrorist groups; the Houthis in the north and Al-Qaeda in the south.
Mohamed bin Salman noted that if Al-Qaeda controls southern Yemen, 20 years will be needed to kick them out. A worse version of Iraq in 2013 will be regenerated in Yemen as Houthis started to move in 2014 against the Yemeni interest, the Saudi crown prince said. “Sometimes we are between a bad and a worse choice.”
A few weeks ago, a new National Security advisor was named by the American administration. The new advisor, John Bolton has been known for his hostile attitude toward the Iranian regime; a similar point of view with the Saudi leadership.
Salman hoped that Iran will be ruled by a different leadership. He wished a better future for Iranians, but without the current leaders. He vowed to rebuild strong ties with Iran only if Iran restores its status before the 1979 Revolution. “But if that doesn’t change, they can enjoy themselves for a very long time ’til they change,” he added.
He revealed that Saudi Arabia has not begun looking into obtaining a nuclear weapon to defend itself, but it will seriously do so when “Iran announces that they have a nuclear weapon. So this will not happen until then.”
As for the Palestinian issue, Salman noted that a Saudi-Israeli relationship will be built only when “the peace issue” is resolved, demonstrating that both Palestinians and Israelis have the right to live and coexist.
The crown prince denied rumors that Saudi Arabia had forced Palestinians to accept specific terms, and noted that “we told him [Abu Mazen] that whatever you think is good for you, we will support it. Whatever we hear from our allies, from the Americans we will try to explain it, we will try to support it, to make things happen. But if it doesn’t work for you, then it doesn’t work.”
For the Syrian issue, bin Salman stressed that the Saudi Kingdom does not support Bashar al-Assad, but urged President Donald Trump to keep U.S. troops in Syria which has been part of the Russian influence in the region. “I believe Syria’s interest is not to let the Iranians do whatever they want in Syria for the mid-term and long-term because if Syria changes ideologically, then Bashar, will be a puppet for Iran,” MBS added.
Bin Salman urged that Assad will never leave without a war which no one wants for the time being because this war will be between the United States and Russia on Syrian territory, adding, “no one wants to see that.”
MBS said that the Middle East countries, most notably Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are the real victims of terrorism and extremism. He stressed that the first step to eliminate extremism is to fight terrorists. “There are a lot of things to do. One, fighting terrorists, get them, kill them or arrest them. Two, fighting extremists,” he added.
MBS emphasized that no time should be wasted when making decisions. “I do not want to waste my time,” MBS said. “I’m young.” He noted that Saudi Arabia has dozens of potentials to use and exploit for more progress and ambitions.
As for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood network, the Saudi prince noted that the biggest danger of the MB is not because that it lies in the Middle East, but because it seeks to “radicalize” Muslim communities in Europe, adding, “They hope that Europe in 30 years will turn to a Muslim Brotherhood continent.”
From his point of view, the United States made two big mistakes in the last 15-20 years in the Middle East. The first was getting into Iraq, and the second was disbanding the Iraqi army. “I believe the United States of America should stop after they finish their job in Afghanistan and they should focus on how to turn Afghanistan from an inferior state to a normal state,” MBS said.
MBS praised his ancestors’ achievements to the Saudi Kingdom, but he insisted that the young generation still has more to offer to their nation. He stressed that his father’s generation promoted the Saudi economy to be among the G20 and among the top 20 global economies. He demonstrated that the young generation seeks to exploit roughly 90 percent of the Saudi unused capacity to achieve more development and successes.
“We have a lot of gas explorations in the Red Sea, we have local content, balance of payment. We spend $230 billion a year outside Saudi Arabia. If we do nothing, it will go up in 2030 to between $300-400 billion spent outside of Saudi Arabia,” MBS said.
He promised that the Saudi public investment will exceed $2 billion in 2030, while it marks only $150 billion today. “We will invest half of this money to empower Saudi Arabia, and the other 50 percent we will invest abroad to ensure that we are part of the emerging sectors around the world.”
Saudi education is ranked 41st among global education systems, one rank behind France. MBS stated that the Saudi education rank will be in the top 30 to 20 in 12 years’ time. He denounced claims that Saudi culture is inspired by so-called Wahabbism. “What’s Wahhabist? You’ve got to explain what’s Wahhabist. Because there is nothing called Wahhabist. And this is one of the ideas of the extremists after ’79 to put the Wahhabist things, to let the Saudis be part of something that they are not part of it. So I need someone to explain to me what are the teachings of Wahhabism. There is nothing called Wahhabist. In Saudi Arabia we have Sunni and Shiite sects,” MBS stressed.
The Saudi crown prince illustrated that the Kingdom embraces different sects, including Sunnis and Shiites. He differentiated between being an Iranian and a Shiite. He added that more than 10 million foreigners live in Saudi Arabia. “The CEO of Aramco, the biggest company in the whole world is Shiite. The most important university in the Middle East, west of Saudi Arabia, KAUST, who’s the head of it? Shiite. So we don’t differentiate among Saudis based on sects,” he added.
“We live in Saudi Arabia as Saudis in Saudi Arabia,” bin Salman emphasized.
The Saudi prince defended women’s rights including the right to work and play sports. He noted that “if someone comes and says ‘women cannot participate in sport,’ we tell them how about when the Prophet raced with his wife. If someone comes and says ‘women cannot do business,’ the wife of the Prophet, she was a businesswoman and he used to work for her as a Prophet.”
“King Salman and his sons and his team, they are super-clean,” the crown prince stressed. He defended himself and his family; urging anyone to show proof that he is corrupted. “My track record is winning business in Saudi Arabia.”