Saudi Crown Prince calls US strategic ally, concedes serious disagreements with Biden – then signals he’s diversifying Kingdom’s portfolio of alliances to include China, Russia
On 5th anniversary of the rollout of his sweeping Vision 2030 economic reform plan, MBS tells interviewer he wants good relations with Biden administration, but “we’re also working on strengthening our alliances with our partners throughout the world”
In a rare, fascinating and far-reaching interview broadcast on the Al-Arabiya TV channel, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent a not-too-subtle signal to U.S. President Joe Biden that if the White House turns away from Riyadh, the Saudis are cultivating other options.
Among the other topics the crown prince discussed at length was how he views the Iranian threat, the crisis in Yemen and, especially, the progress he is making on Vision 2030 – his plan to wean the Kingdom off oil revenues and diversify its economy.
The interview marked the fifth anniversary of the rollout of his sweeping Vision 2030.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the interview(Photo: screenshot)
The crown prince – widely known by his initials MBS – was careful not to criticize the Biden administration.
And he stressed that the United States is “a strategic ally to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Yet, he also conceded there are important differences with the new administration that will need to be worked through.
Asked by the interviewer if there was “any discord between these two allies” and whether the Biden White House had chosen to “turn its back to Riyadh,” the crown prince emphasized that there is 90% agreement with the U.S.
“There is no such thing as a completely 100% agreement between two countries, even with the Gulf countries, the closest ones,” said the crown prince.
“There usually are some kind of differences, which is something you’d find in the same house, where brothers don’t agree 100% on everything.”
“With varying U.S. administrations, of course, the margin of difference may increase or decrease, but we are in agreement with the Biden administration on more than 90% of Saudi-U.S. interests, and we hope to enhance it one way or another.”
MBS said the two countries agreed on “important objectives” like promoting “clean energy and preserving the environment.”
“And for the things we have some differences with them, which make up less than 10%, we try to find solutions and reach an understanding to overcome them, neutralizing their risks on both countries while upholding our interests,” he said.
“The U.S. is certainly a strategic ally to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been our ally for more than 80 years, which had quite a big impact on both the Kingdom and the U.S.”
WARNING TO THE WHITE HOUSE?
That said, MBS seemed to send a not-so-subtle warning to Biden and his team that the U.S. is not the only game in town, and that the Saudis were working hard to diversify their portfolio of global allies.
“We’re also working on strengthening our alliances with our partners throughout the world,” he said, not just with the U.S., but with “the UK, France, Europe, and other countries…such as Russia, India, China, Latin America, African countries, and others.”
“China announced today that Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner,” he noted, “then India announced the same, followed by Russia.”
“However, we are still a strategic partner for the U.S. as well. And so, we’re strengthening our relations with everyone to serve our interests, their interests and the international interests. At the end of the day, every country has its choice. If we could work with them to serve everyone’s interests, that would be great. Otherwise, there are a lot of other options out there.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Photo: screenshot)
HOW DOES MBS VIEW THE IRANIAN THREAT?
Late in the interview, the reporter asked the crown prince how he viewed relations with Iran.
The answer MBS gave was noteworthy.
Often, over the past several years, he has focused on the grave threat the Iranian regime poses to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region, including the U.S.
This time, however, he discussed his desire for peaceful relations with Tehran.
“Iran is a neighboring country,” he said. “All what we ask for is to have a good and distinguished relationship with Iran.”
“We do not want the situation with Iran to be difficult. On the contrary, we want it to prosper and grow as we have Saudi interests in Iran, and they have Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia, which is to drive prosperity and growth in the region and the entire world.”
“The problem that we have lies with certain negative behaviors they have, whether in terms of their nuclear program, their support of illegal militias in some countries in the region, or their ballistic missile program,” MBS added. “We are working now with our partners in the region and the world to find solutions for these problems. We really hope we would overcome them and build a good and positive relationship with Iran that would benefit all parties.”
IS A TRAIN WRECK COMING?
Biden ran for office vowing to “reassess” the 75-year alliance between the U.S. and the Kingdom and called Saudi Arabia “a pariah state.”
Since taking office, Biden and his team have made a number of moves downgrading U.S.-Saudi relations.
Biden announced that he would not interact with MBS, saying he will only speak with his father, King Salman.
Biden imposed a travel ban on 76 Saudi officials he says were complicit in the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
In February, the administration released a report accusing MBS of ordering Khashoggi’s murder, though the report offered no new facts and no hard proof that MBS even knew about the Khashoggi attack in advance, much less definitively ordered his murder.
I warned at the time that Biden could be driving U.S.-Saudi relations towards a “train wreck.”
This, in turn, could drive the Saudis into the arms of the Chinese and the Russians, seriously damaging U.S. national security interests in the Middle East.
This is definitely a relationship to keep a close eye on.
To read the full transcript of the MBS interview, please click here.