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Saudi Crown Prince prefers Iran, Yemen political solution

… Takes responsibility for Khashoggi killing

FILE – In this Sept. 18, 2019, file photo, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The crown prince said in a television interview that aired Sunday, Sept. 29, that he takes “full responsibility” for the grisly murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but denied allegations that he ordered it. (Mandel Ngan/Pool Photo via AP, File)

WASHINGTON, Sept 30, (RTRS): Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warned in an interview broadcast on Sunday that oil prices could spike to “unimaginably high numbers” if the world doesn’t come together to deter Iran, but said he preferred a political solution to a military one. Speaking to the CBS program “60 Minutes,” Mohammed bin Salman also denied ordering the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives last year, but said he ultimately bears “full responsibility” as the Kingdom’s de facto leader.

“If the world does not take a strong and firm action to deter Iran, we will see further escalations that will threaten world interests,” Prince Mohammed, known as MbS, said through a translator.

“Oil supplies will be disrupted and oil prices will jump to unimaginably high numbers that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.” In an interview conducted on Tuesday in Saudi Arabia, he said he agreed with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the attacks, which knocked out more than 5 percent of global oil supply, were an act of war by Iran. But he said he preferred a peaceful resolution because regional war would collapse the global economy.

The United States, European powers and Saudi Arabia have blamed the attacks on Iran, which denies involvement. Instead, Yemen’s Iranaligned Houthi group claimed responsibility.

MbS also said President Donald Trump should meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to craft a new deal on Tehran’s nuclear program and regional activities. Efforts to bring the two together last week at the United Nations failed. Tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated after the US withdrew last year from a 2015 nuclear deal and reinstated sanctions against Tehran.

Days before the anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, MbS said: “Absolutely not,” when asked if he had ordered it. But he said he took full responsibility “since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.” “This was a mistake. And I must take all actions to avoid such a thing in the future.”

Asked how the killing could have happened without him knowing about it, MbS said: “Some think that I should know what 3 million people working for the Saudi government do daily? It’s impossible that the 3 million would send their daily reports to the leader or the second highest person in the Saudi government.”

Eleven Saudi suspects have been put on trial in secretive proceedings. Asked how two members of his inner circle could have been involved without him knowing, MbS said: “Today the investigations are being carried out. And once charges are proven against someone, regardless of their rank, it will be taken to court, no exception made.”

Asked about prominent women activists who have been detained on charges related to human rights work and tarred by local media as traitors, including Loujain al-Hathloul, MbS said: laws “must be respected, until they are reformed.” He said it was up to the public prosecutor to release Hathloul but that he would personally follow up on accusations she had been tortured in prison.

Asked about criticism of Riyadh in the US Congress over the Khashoggi killing, the activists’ arrests and the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, which has taken a huge civilian toll, MbS said: “The (US-Saudi) relationship is much larger than that.” Trump has resisted congressional efforts to block US arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

MbS also repeated a Saudi call for Iran to halt its support for Houthi forces in Yemen and said he was open to “all initiatives for a political solution” to end the war there. Saudi Arabia has sent messages to Iran’s president through the leaders of other countries, an Iranian government spokesman said on Monday, at a time of heightened tensions between the regional rivals.

“Messages from the Saudis were presented to (Iran’s President) Hassan Rouhani from the leaders of some countries,” spokesman Ali Rabiei said, according to the semi-official ILNA news agency. “If Saudi Arabia is really pursuing a change of behaviour, Iran welcomes that,” he added Rabiei did not give any information on what the messages contained. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warned in an interview broadcast on Sunday that oil prices could spike to “unimaginably high numbers” if the world doesn’t come together to deter Iran, but said he preferred a political solution to a military one.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, asked rating agency Fitch on Monday to reconsider downgrading its credit rating to A from A+ after attacks on Saudi oil facilities, saying the decision was “swift” and did not reflect Riyadh’s actions to maintain global oil supplies. A finance ministry statement also said the Kingdom had shown “restraint and careful consideration” when responding to the Sept 14 attack that initially halved Saudi output.

It said Saudi oil supply was fully back online. Rating agency Fitch downgraded Saudi Arabia’s credit rating to A from A+ on Monday, citing rising geopolitical and military tensions in the Gulf following an attack on its oil facilities and a deterioration of the Kingdom’s fiscal position. The Saudi finance ministry said it was disappointed by the “swift” downgrade and urged Fitch to reconsider it, arguing the move did not reflect the Kingdom’s response to the Sept 14 attack or its capacity to handle adversity. The move – which places Saudi Arabia one notch above the assessment of peer rating agency S&P Global – is a blow to the largest Arab economy as it seeks investment to diversify away from oil and prepares a potential international sale of US dollar denominated Islamic bonds.

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