Author: Abdel Bari Atwan
The man whom many describe as the power behind the Saudi throne has arrived in the US for talks. The deputy crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman is leading the drive for economic reform in Riyadh and his visit comes at a time when Saudi-American relations are at an all time low following Washington’s rapprochement with Tehran and the recent decision in Senate to release secret documents implicating Riyadh in 9/11 and which would enable the families of victims to sue the Saudi state for compensation.
The timing of the visit is extremely unfortunate, coming as it does on the morrow of America’s worst gun massacre in a gay night club in Orlando, committed by an Islamic extremist claiming allegiance to the Islamic State.
Yesterday, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate in the US presidential election issued a statement accusing Gulf states, chiefly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, of financing extremism. Meanwhile, her Republican rival, Donald Trump, echoed these accusations and added that Saudi Arabia should pay for the military ‘protection’ it receives from the US. Trump then re-iterated his racist policy pledge that all Moslems would be barred from entering the US (with the exception of London mayor, Sadiq Khan).
Prince Mohammad is carrying a simple and clear message to Washington. The US may no longer need Saudi oil (since its successes with its own fracking industry) but it can be an economically strategic ally as Riyadh branches out, offering huge investment opportunities for US companies and venture capital funding released through the privatization of large, State-owned companies, including the giant Aramco.
Prince Mohammad is the architect of ‘Vision 2030’ which sees Saudi Arabia diversify its industries as oil prices tumble. As a young man (31 years old) he is fully aware of the major opportunities available in internet companies and just this month, Uber announced that the Saudi Public Investment Fund has invested in it to the tune of $3.5 billion.
At first glance, Prince Salman’s approach towards America appears conciliatory and intended to undo the threats made by Saudi foreign minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, that if the secret pages of the 9/11 report are indeed released, the kingdom will withdraw $750 billion dollars’ worth of Saudi investments in the United States.
The Saudis also got a bad press last week when Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary General, complained that he had been pressurized by the Kingdom to remove it from the blacklist of countries that abuse children’s rights on which it had been placed due to the number of child deaths and mutilations caused by the ongoing Saudi bombardment of Yemen. To rectify the damage, the Saudis hired French and American PR companies to ‘fix’ their image in both countries.
The question is, will the Americans – under either Clinton or Trump – want to do business with the Saudis… will they want to take young Prince Mohammed bin Salman up on his proposals… and if they do, what will they want in return?
The Americans are adept at deception and misinformation, and always put their higher strategic interests above all other considerations. Why, only a few years ago, they were selling Saudi Arabia $110 billion worth of arms (60 billion through 2010, and 48 billion dollars in 2012 and 2013) under the pretext that they were preparing for war on Iran. At the same time they where negotiating secretly with Tehran which is now Washington’s new best friend.
In an article on the BBC website yesterday it was suggested that the only thing uniting America’s Republicans and Democrats – despite their many differences – is criticizing Saudi Arabia and her policies.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman faces a difficult task because America has changed its strategic priorities. As President Barack Obama said in his interview with the magazine ‘Atlantic’, there were some US allies who always wanted a ‘free ride’… that time is over.