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Crown Prince charming: Why Saudi Arabia's reform-minded royal is courting Trump on a U.S. tour

Crown Prince charming: Why Saudi Arabia's reform-minded royal is courting Trump on a U.S. tour
From CBC - March 20, 2018

The White House hosts the House of Saud's new designated successor on Tuesday. It will be the third face-to-face meeting between Saudi Arabia's reform-minded Crown PrinceMohammed bin Salmanand U.S. President Donald Trump, as the Kingdom embarks on a charm offensive.

The world's largest oil exporter hopes to move away from oil dependency and market a new image abroad as a nation embracing what the monarch-in-waiting calls "moderate Islam."

Salman, 32, who told 60 Minutes that "only death" would inhibit his leadership, could well rule for more than half a century as the most powerful Saudi in generations. His talk with Trump will likely include, among other things, a reaffirmation of Saudi plans to enrich uranium and match Iran's nuclear program. The other ambitions he has from this meeting with Trump touch on a few major issues:

The war in Yemen

Congress has been pushing resolutions to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Yemen is controlled by allegedly Tehran-backed Houthi rebels, who the Sunni-majority Saudis view as an Iranian proxy and a symbol of Shia influence near the border.

U.S. Air Force tankers have been refuelling Saudi jets before bombing runs and providing intelligence, and have been providing assistance to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since 2015.

"The Saudis will want America's support on its military hardware," said Hossein Askari, a former mediator between the Iranian and Saudi governments during the 1990s. "They like to get America's maybe covert help, but it's very dangerous because if American soldiers are caught in Yemen and killed, this would further inflame the region."

Although U.S. provision ofarms and logistics support for the war in Yemen might be good in the short run for U.S.-Saudi relations, Askari said, it could became a "headache" for the West if civilian deaths in Yemen can be traced back to American-made munitions.

"Every time someone gets killed because a bomb is dropped and 10 or 15 or 100 people die, these things mushroom into thousands of recruits against the U.S. and against Great Britain."

Foreign investment

As oil prices have plunged, the world's largest oil exporter plans to sell five per cent of Aramco, the state-owned oil company, next year. Meanwhile, the SaudiGDP was forecast to have a negligible growth of 0.1 per cent in 2017.

That's part of the reason Salman, known as M.B.S., wants to privatize five per cent of Aramco, to use the proceeds to develop other industries within the kingdom.

"M.B.S. coming here is important because he wants to send a message to the American business companies that Saudi Arabia is open for business," said HenriBarkey, a senior fellow in Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

All of this will be wrapped up in a national re-branding push for the Gulf nation as Salman relaxes hardline religious regulations to open cinemas and allow women to drive, join the military andattend sports games.

"It's trying to convince Americans that this is the new Saudi Arabia," says David Ottaway, a Middle East fellow at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan research centre. "Dynamic, progressive, that they wo not seize your assets."

That effort will be complicated by the sudden detentions and reports of abuseof wealthy princes, moguls and businessmen put under house arrest as part of an anti-corruption campaign in November.

The row with Qatar

The war in Syria

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