Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s first public trip overseas since becoming heir apparent last year began at the beginning of March in Egypt. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have strengthened ties since Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power in 2013 after ousting the Muslim Brotherhood, which both countries have banned and designated as a terrorist organization. Reuters reported that during the crown prince’s three day visit to Cairo beginning March 4, the two countries agreed to set up a $10 billion joint investment fund to develop the Egyptian side of NEOM, a planned mega-city which the crown prince unveiled at an investment conference in Riyadh last October. A Saudi official told Reuters that Riyadh’s part of the new joint investment fund will be cash while Cairo will commit more than 1,000 square kilometers of land in the southern part of the Sinai peninsula. The investment deal underlines the strategic ties between the richest Arab state and the most populous.
Over the years, Egypt has received billions of dollars in aid from the kingdom. Cairo supports Riyadh in its fight against Iran-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen, and last year joined a Saudi-led boycott of Gulf state Qatar and, despite widespread criticism at home, agreed to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The day before the crown prince’s visit, Egypt’s top court dismissed all outstanding legal challenges to the deal on the islands. Reuters also reported that, during his visit, the crown prince met Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral in what state media said was an unprecedented visit by an official from the conservative muslim kingdom. Promoting a more moderate form of Islam is one of the more ambitious promises made by the crown prince under his plans to transform the kingdom. Egypt has suffered from Islamist extremist violence in recent years, including attacks on churches often claimed by the ultra-violent Islamic State group. In December 2016, a bombing next to St Mark’s cathedral killed at least 25 people. The crown prince’s visit to Egypt came as President al-Sisi prepared to run in an election he is virtually guaranteed to win. Alongside posters urging people to vote for al-Sisi, large banners were put up in central Cairo welcoming the crown prince to his “second country” and others reading “Saudi and Egypt are one hand, one nation.”
In London, where the crown prince also met Queen Elizabeth II. on the second leg of the crown prince’s three-country tour, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia reportedly agreed on a goal of $90 billion (£65 billion) of mutual trade and investment in the coming years, with British prime minister Theresa May’s office calling it a “vote of confidence in the U.K. economy” before Britain leaves the European Union. The investment target was set at a meeting between prime minister May and the crown prince. Bloomberg reported that memorandums of understanding for 14 trade deals were due to be signed during the U.K. visit. Britain is Saudi Arabia’s second-largest supplier of defense equipment and London-based based BAE Systems has been waiting for a follow-on order for the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet after the sale of 72 of the warplanes in 2006. A deal would boost U.K. industry as Britain tightens its own defense spending.

In the United States, President Donald Trump gave a warm welcome to the Saudi crown prince or “MbS” as he is sometimes known in Western circles. Speaking to members of the press in the Oval Office, President Trump and the crown prince praised the strength of U.S.-Saudi ties, which had grown strained under the Obama administration in part over differing views toward Riyadh’s regional rival, Iran. Not so with Trump, who has taken a hardline view against Iran similar to that of the Saudi crown prince. On the eve of the meeting, Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, told reporters “Our view of the (Iran) nuclear deal is that it’s a flawed agreement.”Al-Jubeir called out Iran for what Riyadh has long described as Tehran’s destabilizing behavior in the region. “We’ve called for tougher policies towards Iran for years,” he said. “We’re looking at ways in which we can push back against Iran’s nefarious activities in the region,” lambasting Tehran’s support for the Houthi militia in Yemen and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Iran for its part denies interference in the region’s affairs. Trump’s red-carpet treatment highlighted his administration’s strong backing of the crown prince. The two countries reportedly discussed an agreement last year for $200 billion worth of Saudi investments with the United States, including large purchases of U.S. military equipment. Trump said the military sales contributed to the creation of 40,000 American jobs. Trump held up charts to show the extent of Saudi purchases of U.S. military hardware, ranging from ships to missile defense systems to planes and fighting vehicles. The crown prince said  the Saudi pledge for $200 billion in investments would end up at $400 billion when fully implemented. He said a 10-year window for implementing the deal was under way. Meanwhile, U.S. senators debated a resolution seeking an end to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen’s civil war, in which an estimated 10,000 people have been killed. Some members of Congress have been critical of the Saudi involvement, particularly over the humanitarian situation and civilian casualties. The Senate rejected the resolution. A Saudi-led coalition, with logistical and intelligence support from Washington, is fighting to counter the influence of Iran, an ally of the Houthi militia, which denies any help from Tehran and says it is fighting a revolution against corrupt politicians and Gulf powers in thrall to the West. A senior Trump administration official said the two leaders talked about the humanitarian situation in Yemen and that civilian casualties “did not come up in a major way,” given that Washington had been working with the Saudis to minimize them. Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the chamber’s Foreign Relations Committee, said senators questioned the crown prince closely about Yemen during a meeting with him. The crown prince will conclude his tour of the United States in the first week of April with visits to Saudi Aramco Research Center in Houston, Texas and to the oil refinery in Port Arthur.Saudi Aramco has maintained its U.S. headquarters in Houston for 40 years employing more than 1,000 people. Just this year, the Saudis’ U.S. refining arm, Houston-based Motiva Enterprises, bought out Royal Dutch Shell’s stake ownership of North America’s largest oil refinery in Port Arthur for $2.2 billion. Saudi Arabia’s government-owned industrial company known as Sabic is investing billions more as part of a partnership with Exxon Mobil to develop a $10 billion petrochemical plant near Corpus Christi. Sabic’s CEO, Yousef Al-Benyan, has called Houston its hub for global growth after moving its Americas headquarters to Houston last year. Apart from Washington, D.C. and Texas, the crown prince is reported to also have trips planned to Boston, New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, meeting with companies ranging from Google and Apple to Lockheed Martin.

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