MBS has become increasingly powerful amid his father’s continuing health battles and political shakeups in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud urged the world on Thursday to take “a decisive stance” to address efforts by Iran to develop nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, in his annual address to the top government advisory body.
“The kingdom stresses the dangers of Iran’s regional project, its interference in other countries, its fostering of terrorism, its fanning the flames of sectarianism and calls for a decisive stance from the international community against Iran that guarantees a drastic handling of its efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction and develop its ballistic missiles programme,” the king said.
They were the 84-year-old ruler’s first public remarks since he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in September via videolink, where he also took aim at Iran condemning its “expansionism“. Sunni Muslim-majority Saudi Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran are locked in several proxy wars in the region, including in Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Tehran-aligned Houthi movement for more than five years.
There was no immediate reaction from Iran to the king’s remarks. Tehran described the king’s UN remarks as “baseless allegations” and has denied arming groups in the Middle East.
State news agency SPA published a full transcript of the king’s speech after midnight, and state television broadcast photos of what appeared to be the king addressing council members via videolink from his palace in Neom.
Tensions have risen in the region since United States President Donald Trump pulled the US out of a landmark nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and reimposed stringent economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The relationship Trump shares with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) had provided a buffer against international criticism over Riyadh’s rights record sparked by the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Riyadh’s role in Yemen’s war and the detention of women activists.
But US President-elect Joe Biden pledged in his campaign to reassess ties with the kingdom, a major oil exporter and buyer of US weapons and military equipment.
Saudi Arabia was an enthusiastic backer of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran. But Biden has said he would return to a 2015 nuclear pact between world powers and Tehran, a deal negotiated when Biden was vice president in Barack Obama’s administration.
In Yemen, where the war has killed tens of thousands of people and triggered a humanitarian crisis, King Salman said the kingdom continues to support UN-led efforts to reach a political settlement.
He also condemned what he alleged was the Houthi movement’s “deliberate and methodological” targeting of civilians inside Saudi Arabia via drones and ballistic missiles.
Riyadh was working to guarantee the stability of global oil supplies to serve both producers and consumers, despite COVID-19’s impact on oil markets, the king said.
He repeated his long-standing support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but did not refer to the US-brokered agreements signed between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan to normalise ties with Israel.
Riyadh has quietly acquiesced to the UAE and Bahrain deals, although it has stopped short of endorsing them, and has signalled it is not ready to take action itself.
The king spoke days before the G20 summit, which Saudi Arabia is hosting virtually this year. Human Rights Watch has urged leaders attending the event to press Riyadh to release all those detained unlawfully and provide accountability for past abuses, including the Khashoggi murder.
MBS has denied ordering the killing, but in 2019 acknowledged that it had happened on his watch. Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, last month filed a lawsuit in the US alleging MBS and the Saudi authorities had planned the grisly murder. Riyadh has jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years in the killing.