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Saudi Crown Prince Salman defends Yemeni bombing action as US tour starts

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman defended his country’s bombing campaign in Yemen at the outset of a US tour

world Updated: Mar 19, 2018 08:45 IST
Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia‬,‪Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud‬,‪Iran‬
This file photo taken on March 14, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman shaking hands in the State Dining Room before lunch at the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman defended his country’s bombing campaign in Yemen at the outset of a US tour to generate good will for his nation, accusing rebel forces of exploiting the situation there to win sympathy from the international community.

The ruling prince spoke about his nation’s relationship with Iran during an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that airs on Sunday. The interview covered topics ranging from easing strict adherence to Islamic orthodoxy in his country to and nuclear arms.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia has been warring for three years with Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who the prince maintains are backed by predominantly Shiite Iran. Thousands have died in air strikes and from a naval blockade that impeded humanitarian aid.

Bin Salman said the rebels have launched missiles at his nation’s capital, Riyadh, and that the US wouldn’t tolerate comparable attacks on its cities from, for example, Mexico. Still, when asked to acknowledge the Yemeni death toll, the prince called the situation painful while shifting responsibility for it to the enemy.

“I hope that this militia ceases using the humanitarian situation to their advantage in order to draw sympathy from the international community,” he said, according to a transcript provided by CBS. “They block humanitarian aid in order to create famine and a humanitarian crisis.”

Trump Meeting

Bin Salman is expected to meet with President Donald Trump as well as executives from Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google during his first US trip since becoming ruler, according to a person briefed on its details. His itinerary also may include stops in New York, Boston, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles, where he’ll meet with top movie industry executives, the person said on condition of anonymity because the plans aren’t final.

The crown prince will use the trip to promote investment opportunities in the biggest Arab economy, the person said.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, bin Salman touted his nation’s economy as being larger than that of Iran, dismissed that nation as a “rival,” and repeated a comparison he made last year between its ruling cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Adolf Hitler.

“He wants to create his own project in the Middle East,” bin Salman said. “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.”

Will Follow Suit’

Asked whether his country needed nuclear weapons to counter Iran, bin Salman said, “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

In further rebukes of Iran, he accused it of harboring members of al-Qaeda, including a son of Osama bin Laden, and blamed that nation’s 1979 Islamic revolution for Saudi Arabia’s turn toward a more conservative interpretation of Islam that severely restricted the rights of women.

Bin Salman promised that under his less-restrictive rule, women would be allowed to drive and work for equal pay.

“Saudi women still have not received their full rights,” the prince said. “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.”

The prince also downplayed his fortune and lavish spending. “I’m a rich person and not a poor person. I’m not Gandhi or Mandela,” bin Salman said, adding that he spends at least 51 percent of his personal income on charity.

First Published: Mar 19, 2018 08:42 IST