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Saudi prince MBS tells US evangelicals the world should focus on Iran, not him

Bin Salman reportedly told American group that Khashoggi's murder was 'horrible', and criticised Turkey and Iran
Saudi crown prince speaks at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh last month (AFP)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman told a group of American evangelicals last week that Jamal Khashoggi’s murder was “horrible”, but that the world’s focus should remain on the threat from Iran and Turkey, the delegation’s leader has said.

The crown prince – nicknamed MBS - also attacked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Russians during the two hour meeting with the US visitors, Joel Rosenberg, an evangelical who lives in Israel, told Israel Channel 10 News’ Barak Ravid.

'He said, 'Listen, I am arresting people, firing people. Iran? When they kill people are they arresting people? No. You get promoted. What about the Russians? What about the Turks?''

- Evangelical Joel Rosenberg recounts what MBS told him

MBS's reported comments come amid mounting signs of anxiety from the kingdom, with 82-year-old King Salman off on a tour to shore up support and photos emerging on social media of royals who have been under house arrest.

According to Ravid’s account, published on Axios, Rosenberg told him that MBS “said his enemies are using everything they can to exploit this situation and make it worse”.

"He said, 'Listen, I am arresting people, firing people. Iran? When they kill people are they arresting people? No. You get promoted. What about the Russians? What about the Turks?'"

The evangelicals have said they were invited to Riyadh before Saudi journalist Khashoggi was murdered at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, and were quick to ask the prince about Khashoggi during the meeting.

“He had two messages on this,” Rosenberg told Ravid. “‘It was horrible and unacceptable’ and ‘I can’t let this stop me from all the reforms we have to get done to make life better for the Saudi people and to protect ourselves from the enemies – Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, ISIS'.”

MBS made the comments a week after he told a crowd at the Future Investment Initiative, the Riyadh summit largely panned by Western officials and executives, that unnamed forces were using the Saudi journalist’s murder to “drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey”.

“I want to send them a message: They will not be able to do that as long as there is a king called King Salman bin Abdelaziz and a crown prince called Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and a president in Turkey called Erdogan.”

Six hours of freedom

In the weeks that have followed, there have been signs of anxiety among the Saudi leadership, particularly following the arrival at the end of October of Prince Ahmad bin Abdulaziz.

Saudi sources told Middle East Eye that the younger brother of King Salman returned to the kingdom after a prolonged absence in London to mount a challenge to MBS or find someone who can.

Just this week, King Salman has set off on a road tour of several provinces, the first such trip since the 82-year-old took the throne in 2015. 

Photos have also emerged on social media of Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, the youngest son of the late King Fahd, who disappeared more than a year ago amid speculation that he had been rounded up along with business executives, former government officials and other royals as a result of his vast assets.

Many of those who were rounded up under the pretext of a corruption drive, which critics believe is really a power grab by the young crown prince, remain imprisoned, with analysts suggesting that MBS might soon release more detainees to take pressure off the kingdom.

Despite the photo of the 45-year-old prince, a well-informed source tells Middle East Eye that he has not, in fact, been released from house arrest, but is now allowed to leave his house for six hours each day.

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