Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is touring the Middle East in a bid drum up support as questions abound about how he’ll be received in Argentina for the G20 summit next week.
On Friday, Prince Mohammed continued his international trip – dubbed “a tour of brotherly countries” – in the United Arab Emirates as global condemnation continues over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“I think it’s trying to rehabilitate his despotic image after almost two months of negative press coverage over his role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” said Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, about the visit.
Hashemi said all eyes will be on Prince Mohammed – also known as MBS – as world leaders gather for the G20 meeting from November 30 to December 1 in Argentina.
He said MBS’ suspected ordering of Khashoggi’s killing, as well as the disastrous war in Yemen that he’s spearheaded, will have heads of state pondering whether to shake “his blood-soaked hand”.
Hashemi noted the Argentina trip puts Prince Mohammed in possible legal jeopardy under the policy of universal jurisdiction under international law.
“If there is a case brought against the Saudi crown prince for war crimes or murder by another court that is considered to be credible then an indictment can be issued against him when he arrives in Buenos Aires. So I suspect this is something his lawyers and advisors are looking into,” Hashemi told Al Jazeera.
Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed welcomed MBS on Thursday on his first stop in the UAE, a close ally that is part of a Saudi-led coalition battling Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to the Emirati state news agency WAM.
The two leaders discussed “regional and international” developments and the “challenges and threats facing the Middle East region”, WAM said, without elaborating.
King Salman asked his chosen heir to conduct the tour “based on his keenness to deepen the kingdom’s ties regionally and internationally,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.
“We’re proud of our deep-rooted ties … The UAE will always be a loving and supportive home for our brothers in Saudi Arabia,” Sheikh Zayed said in a Twitter post.
The Saudi prince is set to travel to the Tunisian capital on Tuesday before heading to Argentina.
International pressure has continued to mount on Riyadh over the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
The Saudi writer was killed and dismembered in what Saudi Arabia said was a “rogue” operation. But a CIA analysis leaked to the US media pointed the finger at Prince Mohammed.
Dennis Horak, a former Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, predicted international pressure on MBS won’t amount to much going forward.
“The Saudis what they do whenever there is some sort of controversy they will make the rounds of the various Arab capitals to drum up support. And, frankly, a lot of these other countries, they don’t really care about things like the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It’s not an issue for them.”
He noted Saudi Arabia is a “very important country” and the only Arab state in the G20, adding speculation that Prince Mohammed could be forced out of power were naïve.
“Look, the Saudis are not going to respond to international pressure to decide who rules that country,” Horak told Al Jazeera.
US President Donald Trump has been criticised after challenging the CIA’s report and saying Washington would not slacken its support for the kingdom.
Trump was asked by a reporter on Thursday who should be held accountable for Khashoggi’s murder.
“Maybe the world should be held accountable, because the world is a vicious place,” the president replied.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could meet Prince Mohammed on the sidelines of the G20 summit, according to a Turkish presidential spokesman.
Such a meeting would be the first face-to-face encounter between the two since Khashoggi’s killing.
Erdogan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government but has stopped short of directly blaming Prince Mohammed.