News Analysis |
Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS), the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, came to the US on Monday for his first ever visit to the Washington. It is scheduled to be a multi-city visit. MBS will visit Washington, New York, Houston, Boston, Seattle and San Francisco.
There had been speculations since early February that he might visit the US this month. The Saudi embassy in the US does not reveal details of important visits beforehand. The visit was confirmed, however, on Sunday. There is a lot on the agenda for Crown Prince Salman’s visit to the United States. Most likely, there will be a focus on MBS’ vision 2030, trade and investment, the War in Yemen and, in particular, Iran.
Muhammad Bin Salman was designated as the Crown Prince in June of last year. This designation means that he will be the heir apparent to the throne on which his father, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, currently sits. MBS was born in Riyadh. He received his early education in Riyadh schools and graduated among the top 10 students of his class. He got a college degree in law from the King Saud University.
These reforms will be a likely topic of discussion with the American President during his first ever visit to the US.
He has over 10 years of professional experience working in various capacities in the Saudi government. He became the youngest defense minister of Saudi Arabia, at the age of 32. Since he probably has decades to rule and govern the kingdom, he probably feels that no time should be wasted in introducing much-needed and long-delayed reforms in the country’s economy and society. These reforms will be a likely topic of discussion with the American President during his first ever visit to the US.
The Vision 2030 of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman aims to restructure the Saudi economy in a way that ensures maximum independency from oil exports. After the Paris Agreement in 2015, virtually all the countries in the world agreed to reduce carbon emissions to the extent possible for each country under the NDCs or Nationally Determined Contributions. This entails a shift to hybrid or renewable sources of energy. A decline in hydrocarbon usage can be expected i.e. a decline in hydrocarbon export from Saudi Arabia. Thus, it may have been necessary to have a ‘Vision 2030’ for Saudi Arabia like the one MBS has had.
For this purpose, he will meet with investors, business leaders, film-makers and tech gurus from Silicon Valley and try to woo them into investing in Saudi Arabia. Women were recently allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia and allowed to attend a football match as well.
Concerts and movie screenings are also being encouraged by the government under MBS’ leadership. A fashion show also took place recently in the Gulf country. Entrepreneurs, movie-makers, fashion designers and artists from the US may find these developments to be a sign of things to come.
Containing the growing influence of Iran in the middle-east is another important issue for both Washington and Riyadh. Donald Trump believes that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or the Iran Nuclear Deal should either be revoked or changed in the favor of America and its allies. Riyadh sees weapons of mass destruction in Tehran’s hands as an existential threat. The Crown Prince has said that Saudi Arabia will develop or procure nuclear weapons if Iran attains one.
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Israeli Prime Minister and Trump ally, Benjamin Netanyahu, has warned of the dangers of allowing a weapon to fall into the hands of a Gulf country in a meeting with the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate. Muhammad bin Salman’s task will be to dispel such concerns that Netanyahu may have implanted in Washington.
If the US does not help Saudi Arabia in this regard, the Crown Prince has other options to attain nuclear weapons: China, Russia or Pakistan. In addition to that, American companies may also benefit from investing in Saudi Arabia. This is likely to incentivize other Gulf countries to try and attain nuclear energy power plants as well. As Riyadh seeks to offset dependence on oil, nuclear power plants are also an attractive option. A ‘123’ agreement needs to be reached between the US and the Saudi Kingdom for it to be legal for America to export nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.
The war in Yemen has raged on for years now. Even though MBS has ended the blockade against Yemen’s ports and announced an aid package on humanitarian basis for civilians caught in the fighting between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed government forces, the Congress in America seems to be divided over US support for Riyadh’s military operation. This is another key task on the agenda for the Crown Prince’s visit; to shore up American support to guarantee victory in Yemen civil war.
The young, dynamic and ambitious Crown Prince has attracted a lot of attention ever since he became the heir apparent to the throne in Saudi Arabia. Tom Friedman of the New York Times said that Muhammad bin Salman is the embodiment of the Arab Spring on Saudi Arabia. This is his first visit to the United States of America. More can be expected in the coming years, if not decades.