Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said that “only death” will stop him from ruling the kingdom in a wide-ranging interview on the eve of his first official visit to the United States.
“Only God knows how long one will live, if one would live 50 years or not, but if things go their normal ways, then that’s to be expected,” bin Salman said in an exclusive interview that aired on the US news programme 60 Minutes on Sunday evening.
When asked by CBS’ Norah O’Donnell if anything could stop him, the crown prince responded “only death”.
The 60 Minutes report, the first US television interview with bin Salman since he came to power, largely painted MBS – as bin Salman is commonly known – as a leader who has introduced “revolutionary” reforms to his country.
The interview comes just months after the kingdom held several Saudi princes and other officials for months in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh in what the crown prince dubbed an effort to root out corruption.
Human Rights Watch said the tactics looked “more like extortion” and made “a mockery of the rule of law”.
In the interview, bin Salman said Saudi Arabia recuperated more than $100bn in the operation and described accusations the detentions were part of a power grab as “naive”.
“What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary. All actions taken were in accordance with existing and published laws,” the crown prince said.
Bin Salman also blamed the social problems and shift towards conservatism in Saudi Arabia on the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
“We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979,” he said.
Asked about human rights violations in the kingdom, he said Saudi Arabia “believes in many of the principles of human rights”.
“In fact, we believe in the notion of human rights, but ultimately Saudi standards are not the same as American standards. I don’t want to say that we don’t have shortcomings. We certainly do. But naturally, we are working to mend these shortcomings.”
He added that “absolutely” women and men are equal in the country.
“We are all human beings and there is no difference,” he said.
While the crown prince has moved to ease restrictions on women in the country, leading female academics from Saudi Arabia have previously described the moves as an effort to bolster support to help lift its ailing economy.
Many have called for more comprehensive changes to the kingdom’s “guardianship system”.
War in Yemen
The crown prince has also faced criticism for launching a deadly military offensive in Yemen.
In the 60 Minutes interview, the Saudi leader blamed Yemen’s Houthi rebel group for the humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the country since Riyadh launched its bombing campaign in 2015, saying Houthi fighters were blocking the delivery of aid.
But human rights groups have accused Saudi-led coalition forces of indiscriminately bombing civilians and critical infrastructure such as hospitals and schools in what may amount to war crimes.
More than two million Yemenis have been displaced and 10,000 others have been killed in the war, which shows no signs of abating.
“I can’t imagine that the United States will accept one day to have a militia in Mexico launching missiles on Washington, DC, New York and LA while Americans are watching these missiles and doing nothing,” bin Salman said.
Bin Salman also once again hit out against Iran, dismissing claims the two countries are rivals.
“Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia,” he added.
In the programme, bin Salman also compared Iran’s Ayatollah Khameini to Adolf Hitler, a remark he has made in the past.
“He wants to create his own project in the Middle East, very much like Hitler, who wanted to expand at the time. Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realise how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I don’t want to see the same events happening in the Middle East,” bin Salman said.
He added that while Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire nuclear weapons, “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible”.
Iran responded to bin Salman’s comments in advance of the interview’s airing, saying the Saudi leader was a “delusional naive person”.
“He has no idea of politics apart from bitter talk that emanates from a lack of foresight … His remarks do not deserve a response,” Bahram Qasemi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, was quoted as saying by the country’s state TV.
Sunday’s interview comes on the eve of the crown prince’s two-week visit to the US, which begins on Monday, and as part of a Saudi public relations effort to win over the American public, several political analysts have said.
Bin Salman is expected meet US President Donald Trump and members of his administration, as well as business and financial leaders in New York, Silicon Valley and elsewhere.