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Saudi Crown Prince Hails Women’s Rights, Says Iran Is Weak in ‘60 Minutes’ Interview

Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, arrives in Washington on Monday, extolling the virtues of the kingdom and dangers of Iran in an exclusive interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes.” 

It's hardly his first trip to America, but it will certainly be the most momentous.

The interview aired on the eve of the crown prince’s two and a half week tour of the United States, where he is set to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington and then head across the country to pitch his Vision 2030 economic plan to investors and high-tech giants. 

The heir to the Saudi throne told “60 Minutes” correspondent Norah O’Donnell about Iran’s “harmful” role in the region, and his determination to return the kingdom to the moderate Islam prior to 1979 and improve women’s rights. 

In a preview of the interview last Thursday, the crown prince revealed that if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia “will follow suit as soon as possible.” 

However, in the full-length interview, he dismissed any suggestion of the two countries’ comparable strengths. “Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia,” he said. “Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia.”

He blasted the Islamic Republic for its involvement in Yemen and its harmful role in the region. “The Iranian regime is based on pure ideology,” he stated. “Many of the Al-Qaida operatives are protected in Iran and it refuses to surrender them to justice, and continues to refuse to extradite them to the United States. This includes the son of Osama bin Laden, the new leader of Al-Qaida. He lives in Iran and works out of Iran. He is supported by Iran.” 

Here's the full interview:

Norah O'Donnell: When many Americans think about Saudi Arabia, they think about Osama bin Laden and 9/11. They think about the terrorism that he brought to American soil.

Mohammed bin Salman: Right. Osama bin Laden recruited 15 Saudis in the 9/11 attacks with a clear objective. According to the CIA documents and Congressional investigations, Osama bin Laden wanted to create a schism between the Middle East and the West, between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America.

Norah O'Donnell: Why did Osama bin Laden want to create that hatred between the West and Saudi Arabia?

Mohammed bin Salman: In order to create an environment conducive to recruitment and spreading his radical message that the west is plotting to destroy you. Indeed, he succeeded in creating this schism in the west.

Norah O'Donnell: And how do you change that? Because it looks like what you are trying to do is change things here at home.

Mohammed bin Salman: Indeed. I believe that we have succeeded in many respects in the last three years.

Norah O'Donnell: What's been the biggest challenge?

Mohammed bin Salman: There's a lot of challenge. I think the first big challenge that we have is do the people believe in what we are doing.

Norah O'Donnell: There is a widespread perception that the kind of Islam practiced inside Arabia is harsh, it is strict, and it is intolerant. Is there any truth to that?

Mohammed bin Salman: After 1979, that is true. We were victims, especially my generation that suffered from this a great deal.

Norah O'Donnell: What has been this Saudi Arabia for the past 40 years? Is that the real Saudi Arabia?

Mohammed bin Salman: Absolutely not. This is not the real Saudi Arabia. I would ask your viewers to use their smartphones to find out. Moreover, they can Google Saudi Arabia in the 70s and 60s, and they will see the real Saudi Arabia easily in the pictures.

Norah O'Donnell: What was Saudi Arabia like before 1979?

Mohammed bin Salman: We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979.

Norah O'Donnell: Are women equal to men?

Mohammed bin Salman: Absolutely. We are all human beings and there is no difference.

Norah O'Donnell: You have said you are, "Taking Saudi Arabia back to what we were, a moderate Islam." What does that mean?

Mohammed bin Salman: We have extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man, a woman alone together, and their being together in a workplace. Many of those ideas contradict the way of life during the time of the prophet and the Caliphs. This is the real example and the true model.

Mohammed bin Salman: The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.

Norah O'Donnell: You have promised transparency and openness. Is this really an open and free society?

Mohammed bin Salman: We will try to publicize as much as we can and as fast as we can, information in order to make the world aware of what the government of Saudi Arabia is doing to combat radicalism.

Norah O'Donnell: But to answer the question about human rights in the Kingdom.

Mohammed bin Salman: Saudi Arabia believes in many of the principles of human rights. In fact, we believe in the notion of human rights, but ultimately Saudi standards are not the same as American standards. I do not want to say that we do not have shortcomings. We certainly do. But naturally, we are working to mend these shortcomings.

Norah O'Donnell: What happened at the Ritz-Carlton? How did that work?

Mohammed bin Salman: What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary. All actions taken were in accordance with existing and published laws.

Norah O'Donnell: How much money did you get back?

Mohammed bin Salman: The amount exceeds $100 billion, but the real objective was not this amount or any other amount. The idea is not to get money, but to punish the corrupt and send a clear signal that whoever engages in corrupt deals will face the law.

Norah O'Donnell: Is what's happening in Yemen, essentially, a proxy war with Iran?

Mohammed bin Salman: Unfortunately, Iran is playing a harmful role. The Iranian regime is based on pure ideology. Many of the Al-Qaeda operatives are protected in Iran and it refuses to surrender them to justice, and continues to refuse to extradite them to the United States. This includes the son of Osama bin Laden, the new leader of Al-Qaeda. He lives in Iran and works out of Iran. He is supported by Iran.

Norah O'Donnell: At its heart, what is this rift about? Is it a battle for Islam?

Mohammed bin Salman: Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy.  Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia.

Norah O'Donnell: But I have seen that you called the Ayatollah, Khamenei, "the new Hitler" of the Middle East.

Mohammed bin Salman: Absolutely.

Norah O'Donnell: Why?

Mohammed bin Salman: Because he wants to expand. He wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time. Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realize how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I do not want to see the same events happening in the Middle East.

Norah O'Donnell: Does Saudi Arabia need nuclear weapons to counter Iran?

Mohammed bin Salman: Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.

Norah O'Donnell: Are you looking at the schooling and the education in Saudi Arabia?

Mohammed bin Salman: Saudi schools have been invaded by many elements from the Muslim Brotherhood organization, surely to a great extent. Even now, there are some elements left.  It will be a short while until they are all eradicated completely.

Norah O'Donnell: You say you are going to eradicate this extremism in the education system here?

Mohammed bin Salman: Of course, no country in the world would accept that its educational system be invaded by any radical group.

Norah O'Donnell: On Women’s Rights, are women equal to men in Saudi Arabia?

Mohammed bin Salman: We are working on an initiative, which we will launch in the near future, to introduce regulations ensuring equal pay for men and women.

Norah O'Donnell: But you are talking about equal pay. Women cannot even drive in this country. This is the last, last place in the world that women do not have the rights to drive.

Mohammed bin Salman: This is no longer an issue. Today, driving schools have been established and will open soon. In a few months, women will drive in Saudi Arabia. We are finally over that painful period that we cannot justify.  

Norah O'Donnell: Certainly, most people hear about the rule that will allow women to drive in June. But there have also existed these guardianship laws that, in order to travel, a woman has to get the permission of a male in her household. It seems so throwback.

Mohammed bin Salman:  Today, Saudi women still have not received their full rights. There are rights stipulated in Islam that they still do not have. We have come a very long way and have a short way to go.

Norah O'Donnell: You are 32 years old. You could rule this country for the next 50 years.

Mohammed bin Salman: Only God knows how long one will live, if one would live 50 years or not, but if things go their normal ways, then that has to be expected.

Norah O'Donnell: Can anything stop you?

Mohammed bin Salman: Only death.

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