The New York Times reports: President Trump has spoken with the king of Saudi Arabia to offer a wholehearted endorsement of a drive to modernize the kingdom, as the Saudi authorities arrested scores of prominent business people and ministers in a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown.
In an unusually lengthy and detailed readout of the call made on Saturday, the White House said that Mr. Trump had thanked King Salman for Saudi Arabia’s support in fighting terrorism and for its purchase of military equipment from the United States. And he praised the king’s favorite son and top adviser, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for his recent calls for tolerance and moderation in Saudi society.
“The king and crown prince’s recent public statements regarding the need to build a moderate, peaceful and tolerant region are essential to ensuring a hopeful future for the Saudi people, to curtailing terrorist funding, and to defeating radical ideology — once and for all — so the world can be safe from its evil,” the White House said in the statement.
The White House statement made no mention of the scores of arrests, including that of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor who has held stakes in an array of Western companies, including the News Corporation, Citigroup and Twitter. Prince Mohammed, who has already sidelined rivals to the throne, is viewed as the mastermind behind the crackdown.
Prince Alwaleed sparred with Mr. Trump on Twitter during the presidential election, referring to him as a “disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America.” Mr. Trump fired back, also on Twitter, that he was a “dopey prince” trying to “control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money.”
White House officials had no immediate comment on whether Mr. Trump’s call should be interpreted as an endorsement of the arrests. But the statement made clear that the White House approved of everything else King Salman and Prince Mohammed were doing in Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading…]
Bloomberg reports: The two leaders did discuss Trump’s request, first issued in a late-night tweet, that the Saudis list the Saudi Arabian Oil Co. – better known as Aramco – on the New York Stock Exchange.
After speaking to Salman aboard Air Force One, Trump told reporters on the plane that he was motivated to send the tweet because the Aramco initial public offering “will be just about the biggest ever” and the U.S. wants “to have all the big listings.” The Saudis were not currently looking at listing on a U.S. exchange “because of litigation risk, and other risk, which is sad,” he said.
The Aramco IPO could be the world’s largest, with the Saudi government hoping to raise $100 billion selling just 5 percent of the company. It is the centerpiece of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” reform plan, intended to diversify the kingdom’s economy and invest more heavily in infrastructure. [Continue reading…]
James M. Dorsey writes: The most recent crackdown breaks with the tradition of consensus within the ruling family whose secretive inner workings are equivalent to those of the Kremlin at the time of the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, the dismissals and detentions suggest that Prince Mohammed rather than forging alliances is extending his iron grip to the ruling family, the military, and the national guard to counter what appears to be more widespread opposition within the family as well as the military to his reforms and the Yemen war.
It raises questions about the reform process that increasingly is based on a unilateral rather than a consensual rewriting of the kingdom’s social contract. “It is hard to envisage MBS succeeding in his ambitious plans by royal decree. He needs to garner more consent. To obtain it, he must learn to tolerate debate and disagreement,” quipped The Economist, recently referring to Prince Mohammed by his initials. [Continue reading…]