MBS Interview: 6.15.2019

“Mohammed bin Salman to «Al-Sharq al-Awsat»: Iran’s recent attacks require a firm stance from the international community,” interview with Ghassan Cherbal, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 6.15.2019

Unofficial translation, some sections rearranged for thematic reasons.

[Update: official translation available here: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1769696/mohammed-bin-salman-asharq-al-awsat-we-don%E2%80%99t-want-war-we-won%E2%80%99t-hesitate-dealing ]

Major sections:

  • Iran
  • Jamal Khashoggi
  • Yemen
  • PIF
  • Aramco IPO

Iran

The region has recently witnessed serious disturbances that threaten the security and stability of the region and the world at large. What is the Kingdom’s position on these events? How will the Kingdom deal with this escalation?

The Kingdom’s position is clear, as stated in its government statement. The Kingdom does not want war in the region, but we will not hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty and our vital interests…

Let us not forget that this regime has publicly declared since 1979 that its priority and main objective is to export the revolution, even at the expense of the aspirations of its people and the peoples of the region. This motive explains the actions of the Iranian regime. The export of the revolution and the principle of the “rule of the jurists” require the destabilization of countries and the region, stirring up sectarianism and spread extremism while exploiting the capabilities of the Iranian people to finance and arm terrorist militias…

We hoped that the Iranian regime would use [the nuclear agreement] to change its actions towards the countries of the region as a first step towards the return of Iran to the international community as a normal state. Unfortunately, Iran instead took advantage of the economic returns of the agreement to support its hostile actions in the region while continuing to violate international resolutions…

The recent events in the region, including the targeting of Aramco pumps by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia, underscore the importance of our demands that the international community take a firm stand against an expansionist regime that has supported terrorism and spread murder and destruction over the past few decades, not only in the region but across the entire world.

Jamal Khashoggi

Recently… the kingdom has been criticized by parties within the United States on a number of issues, particularly in the case of Jamal Khashoggi. Did these criticisms affect strategic cooperation between the two countries?

With regard to media campaigns or some American positions, they certainly do not serve the common objectives of our two countries [security, economic development, combating extremism]. But the Kingdom has faced such campaigns throughout our history , which are mostly biased and not based on accurate information. We always seek to clarify the facts and correct misconceptions of some parties in the United States and other countries. We listen to what is presented and will take into account any logical, objective proposition. Ultimately, however, our priority is our national interests. Our priorities are our citizens in Riyadh, Jeddah, Jazan, Tabuk, Dammam and other parts of the Kingdom, not what others see or ask about the Kingdom. Throughout the history of the Kingdom, we have been able to coexist with our major allies despite the existence of natural differences between all states, by respecting the sovereignty of states and not interfering in their internal affairs, and we accept no less than reciprocity in [this].

As for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, as I have already mentioned, this is a very painful crime. There has never been such a crime in the history of the Kingdom. Such things are not part of our culture and contradict our values ​​and principles. In the Kingdom, we have taken the necessary measures, both through the judicial process to hold all those involved in this crime accountable and through regulatory action to prevent such unfortunate crime from happening in the future… Unfortunately, those accused of committing the crime were government officials, and we will we seek full justice and accountability. Any party seeking to exploit the issue politically should stop doing so and instead provide evidence to the courts inside the Kingdom to contribute to the achievement of justice.

[Later] How do you respond to these accusations [by the Turkish President and other Turkish officials regarding Khashoggi]?

Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen, and there is no doubt that what he suffered was painful and regrettable, and we have taken in the Kingdom all procedures to hold those responsible responsible for this crime, and the defendants were referred to the judiciary. The judiciary in the Kingdom is an independent authority that no one has the right to intervene in.

Yemen

Four years have passed since coalition operations began in Yemen. What progress do you see on the political and military levels? What are the chances of ending the Yemeni crisis, especially after the agreements reached in Stockholm, as well as the terrorist attack carried out by the Houthi militia on the oil pumps in the Kingdom and the airports of Najran and Abha?

The Kingdom’s efforts since 2011 have aimed at achieving a smooth political transition in Yemen, so as to preserve the independence and sovereignty of Yemen and prevent its political and security institutions from descending into chaos. Indeed, the Yemeni parties signed on to the the Gulf Initiative and its implementation mechanism in Riyadh. All Yemeni parties, including the Houthis, participated in the comprehensive Yemeni national dialogue. Unfortunately, Iran disrupted the political process in Yemen through its militias and started occupying Yemeni cities as well as appropriating the capabilities of the Yemeni state. The Kingdom provided every opportunity to deal with the situation peacefully, but Iran was bent on imposing a new reality through force-of arms in the Arab countries, Unfortunately, the international community at that time did not deal with Iran’s expansionist and sectarian approach, so it continued to extend its control over Yemen through its militias… 
 
Thankfully, most of the territory of Yemen has been liberated and we have supported all efforts to reach a political solution to the Yemeni crisis. Unfortunately, the Houthi militia is advancing Iran’s agenda instead of the interests of Yemen and its people. We have recently seen the malicious Houthi terrorist attack on the oil facilities and Najran airport, and Houthi leaders boast of it. This proves once again that these militias do not care about the interests of the Yemeni people or the crisis they face. Their actions reflect Tehran’s priorities and needs, not Sana’a.

Public Investment Fund

Some might say that the Public Investment Fund (PIF) is crowding the private sector through its direct investments and mega-projects. What is its role in achieving the “vision” and how can any negative effects be avoided? 

…The Fund is now a very important instrument of the state for economic diversification through domestic and international investment. Local investments are directed at projects too large for the private sector to handle. Through mega-projects such as Neom, the Red Sea project, and Qidiya, we will provide dozens if not hundreds of opportunities for private-sector investment. The participation of the private sector is also very important for the PIF and the government, and we have allocated 13 of the Vision’s programs to the private sector…

In terms of external investments, as well as rewarding returns on its assets, PIF will play an important role in establishing economic partnerships that help transfer knowledge, stimulate high-impact investments and enhance local content, with long-term returns for future generations. The Fund also targets new strategic sectors such as tourism and leisure activities…

Aramco IPO

We have followed the matter of listing Saudi Aramco on the international markets, but there is a lack of information about the IPO.  What actions have been taken in this regard?

We are committed to the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco, in accordance with the right conditions and in a timely manner. As I mentioned previously, I expect that this will be between 2020 and the beginning of 2021, God willing, though it is too early to know the location of the offering. Much of the work has been successfully completed in this regard, and the time frame for the offering will depend on several factors, including market conditions for executing the offering due to the size of the Aramco IPO and Aramco’s acquisition of SABIC’s investment fund…

As part of the preparations for the IPO, several important measures have been taken, including the issuance of the hydrocarbon tax system, the re-issuance of an exclusive concession agreement, the appointment of a new Board of Directors, and the independent auditing of the Kingdom’s oil reserves and for the first time… All of this reinforces the principle of transparency, one of the fundamental principles of Vision 2030 to protects the country’s interests and those of potential investors.

In turn, Saudi Aramco made several achievements in its internal program to prepare for the IPO. Among the most important were the amendment of its internal rules and regulations, the transformation into a joint stock company and the harmonization of its internal financial statements and internal reports to meet the requirements of potential financial markets for the IPO. This has been to the satisfaction of investors around the world, as we have seen through the recent bond offering.

Also noted:

  • Regarding the Crown Prince’s dream of ” dream of transforming the Middle East into a new Europe,” “it is not appropriate for this great country to be anything other than at the forefront in all areas, whatever the circumstances and challenges. We will not rest until we achieve this goal for our country first and then for our brothers in the region. “
  • Regarding Sudan: ” We will continue to support our brothers in various fields until Sudan achieves full peace, prosperity and progress.” 
  • Advances of Vision 2030 in improving financial markets, expending the ICT sector, and boosting non-oil exports

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