Saudi Crown Prince says Israel 'potential ally'

Says Riyadh wants to work it out with Iran: Calls Jamal Khashoggi’s killing ‘a huge mistake’

By: AFP
Published: 09:34 AM, 4 Mar, 2022
Saudi Crown Prince says Israel 'potential ally'
Caption: File photo.
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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called Israel a "potential ally" and said in a wide-ranging interview published on Thursday that he wants to "work it out" with Iran 

The de facto leader, 36, also called the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi "a huge mistake" for which he was unfairly blamed, and revealed a penchant for hit TV series "Game of Thrones".

"For us, we hope that the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is solved," the prince told The Atlantic, according to a transcript issued by the official Saudi Press Agency.

"We don't look at Israel as an enemy, we look to them as a potential ally, with many interests that we can pursue together... But we have to solve some issues before we get to that."

Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, but in 2020 Gulf allies Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates normalised ties with the Jewish state.

The normalisation deals under the US-brokered Abraham Accords angered the Palestinians, who condemned them as a "stab in the back".

Saudi relations with Israel's arch-foe Iran, blamed by Gulf states for creating chaos in the region, have at the same time showed signs of improvement with several rounds of talks hosted by Iraq. 

"They are neighbours. Neighbours forever. We cannot get rid of them, and they can't get rid of us," the prince said of Iran.

"So it's better for both of us to work it out and to look for ways in which we can coexist," the transcript said he told the US monthly publication. 

"Hopefully, we can reach a position that's good for both countries and is going to create a brighter future for this country and Iran," he added.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly said it would stick to the decades-old Arab League position of not establishing official ties with Israel until the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved. 

Prince Mohammed has, however, seemed more open than his father, King Salman, towards Israel, allowing its commercial aircraft to pass through Saudi air space.

- House of Cards -

The ultra-conservative kingdom has undergone marked social change under Prince Mohammed, with women allowed to drive for the first time in 2018.

However, Khashoggi's murder that year by a hit squad in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul led to global revulsion and pointed questions for the young prince.

"Why would I do it?" he asked, saying that accusations that he ordered the killing "hurt me a lot".

"What happened was painful... that was a huge failure in the system," he said.

"In any case, if that's the way we did things, Khashoggi would not even be among the top 1,000 people on the list," added the prince.

He also defended a purge launched in 2017 that saw hundreds of Saudi royals and business elite imprisoned in Riyadh's palatial Ritz-Carlton hotel.

"That was a strong signal," said Prince Mohammed.

"I believe (by) 2019 to 2020, they understood even if you steal $100, you're going to pay for it. And a lot of people made that mistake," he added.

Asked whether criticism could land his interviewer in the Ritz-Carlton, the crown prince replied: "Well, at least it's a five-star hotel."

In the rare interview with foreign media, the crown prince also gave an insight into his personal leisure habits, including his preferred TV: sci-fi series "Foundation" and HBO's "Game of Thrones".

"When I watch movies or series I try to see something outside my world. For example, 'House of Cards' is not good for me," he said.

"'Foundation', it's a new series. It's unbelievable. Amazing. 'Game of Thrones', for example. It's great," added the prince.

War mediation offer

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman offered to host mediation talks between Russia and Ukraine in a phone call Thursday with Russian leader Vladimir Putin as the conflict entered its second week.

The Gulf state's de facto leader called for a "political solution" after the Russian invasion and also reiterated his support for the OPEC+ group of oil producers, which includes Russia, to stabilise oil markets. 

"The crown prince explained the kingdom's... support for efforts that lead to a political solution that leads to (the war's) end and achieves security and stability, and that the kingdom is ready to make efforts to mediate between all parties," the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

Arab countries in the Gulf including Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, have mostly refrained from criticising the invasion by Russia, with which they have growing ties.

On Wednesday, however, the Gulf states voted for a UN General Assembly resolution that "demands" Russia "immediately" withdraw from Ukraine.

Saudi Arabia and Russia are both members of OPEC+, which opted to keep production steady this week despite the soaring cost of oil, with Brent North Sea crude flirting with $120 a barrel on Thursday.

The prince "reiterated the kingdom's keenness to maintain the balance and stability of oil markets, highlighting the role of the OPEC+ agreement in this regard and the importance of maintaining it", SPA said.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.