Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched his latest charm offensive on the United States on Sunday, extolling the virtues of the kingdom and dangers of Iran in an exclusive interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
The interview aired on the eve of the crown prince’s two and a half week tour of the United States, where he is set to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington and then head across the country to pitch his Vision 2030 economic plan to investors and high-tech giants.
The heir to the Saudi throne told “60 Minutes” correspondent Norah O’Donnell about Iran’s “harmful” role in the region, and his determination to return the kingdom to the moderate Islam prior to 1979 and improve women’s rights.
In a preview of the interview last Thursday, the crown prince revealed that if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia “will follow suit as soon as possible.”
However, in the full-length interview, he dismissed any suggestion of the two countries’ comparable strengths. “Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia,” he said. “Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia.”
He blasted the Islamic Republic for its involvement in Yemen and its harmful role in the region. “The Iranian regime is based on pure ideology,” he stated. “Many of the Al-Qaida operatives are protected in Iran and it refuses to surrender them to justice, and continues to refuse to extradite them to the United States. This includes the son of Osama bin Laden, the new leader of Al-Qaida. He lives in Iran and works out of Iran. He is supported by Iran.”
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The interview had began by O’Donnell quizzing Crown Prince Mohammed on bin Laden and 9/11. He conceded that 15 Saudis had been involved in the attack, and that the Al-Quaida leader had been successful in creating a schism between the Middle East and the West.
The crown prince was also asked about the recent statement in which he called Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “the new Hitler” of the Middle East, He said he made the comparison because Khamenei “wants to expand. He 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 what happened, happened. I don’t want to see the same events happening in the Middle East.”
He also defended the kingdom’s actions in Yemen, with its bombing campaign frequently blamed for triggering a humanitarian crisis. “I can’t imagine that the United States will accept one day to have a militia in Mexico launching missiles on Washington D.C., New York and L.A. while Americans are watching these missiles and doing nothing,” he said.
The crown prince also blamed the extremist Islam that dominated Saudi Arabia since 1979 on events in neighboring Iran and its Islamic theocracy. This led the Saudis to also begin clamping down and segregating women from everyday life, he said.
When asked what Saudi Arabia was like before 1979, the crown prince painted a picture of a “very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979.” Crown Prince Mohammed himself was born in 1985.
A large part of the interview was dedicated to women’s rights. Asked if women are equal to men, MbS said, “Absolutely. We are all human beings and there is no difference. We have extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone together and their being together in a workplace,” he continued. “Many of those ideas contradict the way of life during the time of the prophet and the Caliphs. This is the real example and the true model.”
He conceded that with only 22 percent of Saudi women in the workplace, the kingdom still needed to do more to improve women’s lives. “We are working on an initiative, which we will launch in the near future, to introduce regulations ensuring equal pay for men and women,” he said. He also recognized that Saudi women “still have not received their full rights. There are rights stipulated in Islam that they still don’t have. We have come a very long way and have a short way to go.”
One subject the crown prince was less willing to discuss was his own fortune, specifically reports that he recently purchased a yacht for $0.5 billion. “My personal life is something I’d like to keep to myself and I don’t try to draw attention to it,” he told O’Donnell.
“If some newspapers want to point something out about it, that’s up to them, he added. "As far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person and not a poor person. I’m not Gandhi or [Nelson] Mandela. I’m a member of the ruling family that existed for hundreds of years before the founding of Saudi Arabia. We own very large lots of land, and my personal life is the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago. But what I do as a person is to spend part of my personal income on charity. I spend at least 51 percent on people and 49 [percent] on myself.”