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Young Saudi Prince Begins US 'Charm Offensive'

Mohammed bin Salman will meet with Trump, Silicon Valley execs on 3-week tour
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 19, 2018 7:44 AM CDT

(Newser) – Saudi Arabia's young crown prince arrives in the US on Monday for a three-week tour. Mohammed bin Salman, seen as his nation's de facto ruler, is expected to receive a warm welcome at the White House on Tuesday from President Trump, but diplomacy is not his only focus. NPR reports that MBS, as he is known, is on what is essentially a "cross-country PR tour" to depict his nation as one in transformation. One crucial component involves him visiting Silicon Valley to meet with execs from Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other major companies to line up investments and diversify the Saudi economy so it is less reliant on oil, per NPR's Deborah Amos. Some different threads related to the visit:

  • Women: In a wide-ranging interview with CBS' 60 Minutes, the 32-year-old prince declared that women are "absolutely" equal to men. Among the reforms put in place by MBS: Allowing women to drive and enter sports stadiums.

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  • Topic No. 1: The dominant issue at the White House talks is expected to be how to counter Iran's growing influence, reports Arab News. Helping in the talks is that the prince "forged close personal relationships" with Trump and Jared Kushner when they visited in May. Also, notes the Wall Street Journal, the Saudis will likely see the switch from Rex Tillerson to Mike Pompeo at the State Department as an "upgrade" more supportive of a confrontational approach with Iran.
  • Friction over Yemen: As MBS visits, a bipartisan effort is underway in Congress to stop US military support for the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, reports the New York Times. The White House and Pentagon are warning this could hurt US-Saudi relations, but critics including Sen. Elizabeth Warren say they want to avoid giving Saudi Arabia a "blank check" in the convoluted fighting.
  • The movies: MBS will be meeting with execs at Walt Disney and Universal Pictures when he's in Los Angeles, again looking for investment opportunities as the nation lifts its ban on cinemas.
  • Criticism: Bloomberg notes that as the prince embarks on his US "charm offensive," his own image has taken a hit of late after he ordered the detention of scores of members of the Saudi business elite. Many reportedly suffered brutal treatment in what has been widely viewed as MBS consolidating his own power.
The prince may also be keeping his mother away from his ailing father, the king. (Read more Saudi Arabia stories.)

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