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Friday, 5 March 2021

Saudi crown prince MBS courts a wary Biden

Duration: 02:25s 0 shares 12 views
Saudi crown prince MBS courts a wary Biden
Saudi crown prince MBS courts a wary Biden

After staying out of the spotlight, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is retaking center stage with some high-profile diplomatic and economic steps.

It's all about wooing the support of Joe Biden, who is expected to be less accommodating to Saudi on Iran and human rights than his predecessor.

Lucy Fielder reports.

After months out of the spotlight, Saudi Arabia's crown prince has taken center stage with diplomatic and economic steps aimed at courting the new U.S. president.

Joe Biden is expected to be less accommodating to Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS, especially on the topics of Saudi's arch-foe Iran and human rights.

And the crown prince knows he won't enjoy the buffer granted by Donald Trump, diplomats say.

MbS's reformist image took a battering in 2018, with the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by agents seen as close to the prince, and his steps to crush dissent and sideline rivals.

He denies ordering Khashoggi's killing.

This year though - MbS is back.

This rare TV appearance last week was to unveil a zero-carbon city - to show new economic momentum and try to woo back spooked foreign investors.

Voluntary cuts to Saudi crude output to help stabilise oil markets was another important economic step.

There have been high-profile diplomatic moves too.

In January, MbS chaired this Gulf summit and announced reconciliation with Qatar, ending a dispute that's seen as parochial in the West, And seeking to present himself as a statesman and pragmatist.

President-elect Biden is expected to re-engage with Tehran, and to take a firmer stand on Saudi's human rights record, and the devastating Yemen war.

Riyadh, which basked in Trump's support, and hardline campaign against Iran, is against a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

So MbS is seeking to present Saudi as a moderating force that should be involved in future talks.

Nervousness about Biden on Iran was one reason the kingdom lobbied the Trump administration to blacklist Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group, which has launched cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia.

U.N.

Officials warn that could push Yemen into large-scale famine, and are urging Biden to rescind the move that takes effect Tuesday (January 19).

Other recent Saudi gestures include reduced jail terms for a prominent women's rights activist and a U.S. Saudi physician whose case was seen as politically motivated.

Even while Riyadh showed it wouldn't brook dissent, they were seen as a nod to Biden.

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