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CBS, MBS and Un-aired Excerpts

Secretary Pompeo Meets With Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jan. 14, 2019 Department of State

Much of the domestic media/social media scene has been abuzz with anticipation of, and then coverage of, the Crown Prince’s appearance on CBS for an extended interview with Norah O’Donnell – Al-Watan provided a full run-down of topics raised in past interviews with Western media outlets. Of the three main topics covered (Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, the potential for confrontation with Iran, and the detention of various rights activists) local media covered the first two far more than the latter – Khalid Suleiman’s column on the interview was simply called “Prince Muhammad, Khashoggi, and Iran!”

Unsurprisingly, the interview was presented as a great success for the Crown Prince and the Kingdom.

The CBS interview showed the Crown Prince’s acceptance of the criticism and his tolerance of questioning no matter what, and his optimism about his country’s future, the Vision, and the aspirations of its youth. The truth is that he pointed out that he is not infallible, “but what is important is that if we make a mistake to learn from our mistakes, and make sure that they will not be repeated.” Jamil al-Dhiyabi, editor of Okaz, 9.30.2019

Regarding Khashoggi – Okaz, which has occasionally managed some anonymized reporting out of the Kingdom’s court proceedings, reported some details of the ongoing trial against those accused of Khashoggi’s murder – a group that does not include former advisor Saud al-Qahtani.

Okaz has learned from reliable sources that the Saudi judiciary has held 8 meetings so far to consider the case. They have been attended by representatives from the Khashoggi family, and the five permanent members of the Security Council, and Turkey, the Saudi Human Rights Commission, and the National Society for Human Rights. This confirms that the Kingdom has nothing to hide about an issue that Saudis have condemned from the top on down. Okaz, 10.3.2019

In one rather odd development, AlArabiya briefly posted a “Full transcript of Saudi Crown Prince’s CBS interview, including unaired answers,” only to subsequently remove the page. I haven’t been able to find this document anywhere else, so perhaps CBS hasn’t formally approved its release? In any case, it is currently available on an obscure website called RiyadhVision – I’ve copied it into a Google Doc here and highlighted the sections that made it into the final interview. Some general observations about the what was left on the cutting-room floor:

  1. Emphasizing that Jamal Khashoggi was not a threat

  2. Downplaying prospects of war with Iran, stressing threat to international energy supplies

  3. Emphasizing Saudi willingness to pursue a ceasefire in Yemen, but also noting Saudi justifications for involvement in the war

  4. Claiming that Crown Prince, King are constrained by the Kingdom’s “independent judicial system” and laws that they are fully capable of changing but haven’t gotten around to

Jamal Khashoggi

I knew Jamal personally and met him many times. He is a person with many ideas. He might have disagreed with me on some ideas but, according to my observations, I believe that he was supportive of many of the actions that are being undertaken under Vision 2030.

On Iran, War and Peace

 The last thing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wants is war. We have Vision 2030 and we have a brilliant and great future and the region has a great and brilliant future, I think Saudi Arabia does not want war but without a doubt the Iranians must know that all our options are on the table and that we are offering peace before everything else.
[Would you be willing to negotiate directly with the Iranians?] If they can sit and negotiate directly. They do not want to negotiate except with regards to lifting sanctions, and this is one of their games that they work on regularly. President Trump gave them a chance all of 2017 to negotiate before he imposed sanctions on them and they never sat on the negotiating table, and now when he imposed sanctions on Iran they demand lifting of these sanctions to sit on the negotiating table. What logic are they talking about?
[How can you let an act of war go unanswered?] No, the answer needs to be the right one. The issue is not merely one of morale, there are economic interests, and there are global interests, we need to do our calculations properly, and we should give a chance to the Iranian regime to prove its seriousness if it wants to prove that, or it will face the necessary measures.
[And I know you spoke after this attack, what promises or assurances did President Trump make in terms of the defense of Saudi Arabia?]… Many objectives that are important to both countries. I believe America knows the dangers of leaving the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be unsafe or exposed. That will lead to greatly threatening the interests of America not after 10 years, but after a few months from now.

On Yemen and the Houthis

We notice that most humanitarian crises are in Houthi-controlled areas because they use the supplies from the United Nations and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other countries and sell them in the black market so they can finance a destructive war in the region, while the areas under the control of the legitimate [government] are much better off than the areas under the control of the Houthi. Those that try to exploit and place the human and children’s rights to pressure the world through dirty means, it’s the Houthis and this is with the admission of the United Nations and many of our allies around the world.
[Will you announce a ceasefire?] If they proved their seriousness, then undoubtedly we will… [ You are saying that if the Houthis hold with their ceasefire that Saudi Arabia will respond in kind with a ceasefire?] Undoubtedly, it is not logical that we continue to attack while they stop attacking.
[What have you learned from the five years in Yemen?] That war must be a last resort.

On Activists and Imprisonment

For me, I look at [the cybercrimes law] as a very stupid law but it is the law nonetheless. Today, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we have tens of thousands of reforms, we are focusing on the most important reforms before we get to fix the tweet about a rainy day in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But until we reach this reform, as long as it is a law, no one can even tell the prosecutor, not even the King, whether the law is good, or apply the ones he’s convinced of but not apply the ones he’s not convinced of and are not good.
I don’t have [full power in] the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. My strength is derived from the power of the Saudi people, I cannot be strong if I am not supported by the Saudi people. Also, I return to the point that some believe that in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the King is sitting in his office and issues any order he wants the next day. The king has powers that are based on the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia, we have a constitution, we have laws, the king works within these laws… So, the work is not based on mood in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

On Economic Development

[Tourism] will contribute to the growth of the economy of Saudi Arabia in the next ten years by more than 10 percent, creating millions of jobs for Saudis and non-Saudis from the region and around the world, and creating huge opportunities for the Saudi private sector and the private sector in the world, and it will attract investments for Saudi Arabia. Today, in the tourism announcement, approximately USD $30 billion worth of investments were signed and it is only the first day…
The Kingdom will become the new destination for tourism for the next 50 years… Today, there is new terrain, new nature, new cuisine, new arts, and a new culture that the world has not seen and that will be opened for the first time to the world.

In other news

The outbreak of a major fire at the Jeddah train station has spurred some calls for a more transparent investigation to what went wrong by two of Okaz’s more critical columnists, Hamood Abu Taleb and Khalid Al-Sulaiman.

Regarding Iran, Abdel Rahman al-Rashed has highlighted U.S. modifications to its command structure in Qatar as precautions designed to deter Iran from war while warning of the potential for further Iranian provocations in the Gulf. Striking a more optimistic note, Salman al-Dosary presented the aftermath of the attacks on Abqaiq as a clear Saudi win and an Iranian loss.

The efforts of the Houthis to generate significant media coverage around claims of “thousands of Saudis captured” have gone nowhere here, and do not seem to have derailed efforts to hold to some kind of ceasefire – on Friday, Oct. 5th Deputy Defense Minister KBS observed that “Saudi Arabia views [the truce] positively as this is what it always seeks, and hopes to implement it effectively as confirmed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”

Your Moment of Zen

A less-critical commentator, Muhammad Al-Sa’id, has managed to fit together every event of the past month into a single, overarching conspiracy narrative (h/t both folks who sent this to me):

A conspiracy planned by the intelligence services of at least three countries – Iran, Qatar, and Turkey – and supported in parallel by international Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Western leftist media… The disciplined and careful Saudi reaction… struck, like a thunderbolt, not only the plotters, but also the Western countries, some of which had fallen prey to the false mental image drawn up by the hostile and Qatar-funded media of the left. Riyadh preferred to engage in professional diplomatic work to reveal, expose and condemn the Iranian criminal aggression and suffocates it more and more. It did this instead of getting involved in an emotional act that would push the whole region to a major war whose results cannot be controlled, with a clear division in the West and the American ally heading into an election year. Muhammad al-Sa‘id, Okaz, 9.30.2019
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