Full transcript of Saudi crown prince CBS interview

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks with correspondent Norah O’Donnell during an interview on Tuesday with the CBS program “60 Minutes,” in Saudi Arabia, in this handout photo released on September 29, 2019. Eric Kerchner for CBSNews/60MINUTES/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS – NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

The wide-ranging interview was conducted with Norah O’Donnell, the anchor of CBS Evening News
The crown prince discussed the Jamal Khashoggi case, the war in Yemen and the global threat from Iran
Norah O’Donnell: Did you order the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: Absolutely not. This was a heinous crime. But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.

Norah O’Donnell: What does that mean that you take responsibility?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: When a crime is committed against a Saudi citizen by officials, working for the Saudi government, as a leader I must take responsibility. This was a mistake. And I must take all actions to avoid such a thing in the future.

Norah O’Donnell: The world wants the answer to this question. How did you not know about this operation?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: Some think that I should know what three million people working for the Saudi government do daily? It’s impossible that the three million would send their daily reports to the leader or the second highest person in the Saudi government.

Norah O’Donnell: Two of your closest advisors who are accused of orchestrating this plot were fired by the king, removed from your inner circle. The question is, how could you not know if this was carried out by people who are close to you?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: 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.

Norah O’Donnell: I’ve read what the Saudi prosecutor has said about those that are charged in this murder. And it’s gruesome, the details. When you heard that people close to you and in your government carried out such a grisly murder, and that the American government thinks that you ordered it, what did you think?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: I believe what you mentioned is not correct. There isn’t an official statement announced by the American government in this regard. There isn’t clear information or evidence that someone close to me did something to that effect. There are charges and they’re being investigated. But again you cannot imagine the pain that we suffered, especially as the Saudi government, from a crime such as this one.

Norah O’Donnell: The CIA has concluded with medium to high confidence that you personally targeted Khashoggi and you probably ordered his death.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: I hope this information to be brought forward. If there is any such information that charges me, I hope it is brought forward publicly.

Norah O’Donnell: What kind of threat is a newspaper columnist to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that he would deserve to be brutally murdered?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: There is no threat from any journalist. The threat to Saudi Arabia is from such actions against a Saudi journalist. This heinous crime, that took place in a Saudi consulate.

Norah O’Donnell: I spoke with a prominent U.S. senator before I came here. And he said because of what happened with Jamal Khashoggi and what’s happened in Yemen that in his words there’s not a lot of good will around here in Congress for Saudi Arabia. How much has it hurt the relationship?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: The relationship is much larger than that and this is a heinous incident and painful to all of us. Our role is to work day and night to overcome this and to make sure our future is much better than anything that happened in the past.

Norah O’Donnell: This attack hit the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry. Were you blindsided?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: I might disagree with you. This attack didn’t hit the heart of the Saudi energy industry, but rather the heart of the global energy industry. It disrupted 5.5% of the world’s energy needs, the needs of the U.S. and China and the whole world.

Norah O’Donnell: The kingdom is the world’s number one importer of arms, of military equipment; billions of dollars spent on equipment. How could it not prevent an attack like this?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: Saudi Arabia is almost the size of a continent, it is bigger than all of Western Europe. We have 360 degrees of threats. It’s challenging to cover all of this fully.

Norah O’Donnell: What do you think was the strategic reason that Iran struck Aramco?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: I believe it’s stupidity. There is no strategic goal. Only a fool would attack 5% of global supplies. The only strategic goal is to prove that they are stupid and that is what they did.

Norah O’Donnell: Secretary Mike Pompeo has called what Iran did in his words, “an act of war.” Was it an act of war?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: Of course. Yes.

Norah O’Donnell: What kind of effect would a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran have on the region?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: The region represents about 30% of the world’s energy supplies, about 20% of global trade passages, about 4% of the world GDP. Imagine all of these three things stop. This means a total collapse of the global economy, and not just Saudi Arabia or the Middle East countries.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: If the world does not take a strong and firm action to deter Iran, we will see further escalations that will threaten world interests. Oil supplies will be disrupted and oil prices will jump to unimaginably high numbers that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.

Norah O’Donnell: Does it have to be a military response?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: I hope not.

Norah O’Donnell: Why not?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: Because the political and peaceful solution is much better than the military one.

Norah O’Donnell: Do you think that President Trump should sit down with President Rouhani and craft a new deal?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: Absolutely. This is what President Trump is asking for, this is what we all ask for. However, it is the Iranians who don’t want to sit at the table.

Norah O’Donnell: It is called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. What’s the solution?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: First, if Iran stops its support of the Houthi militia, the political solution will be much easier. Today we open all initiatives for a political solution in Yemen. We hope this happens today rather than tomorrow.

Norah O’Donnell: You’re saying tonight that you want to negotiate an end to the war in Yemen?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: We are doing this every day. But we try to turn this discussion into an actual implementation on the ground, and the Houthis a few days ago announced a ceasefire, from their side, we consider it a positive step to push for more serious and active political dialogue.

Norah O’Donnell: Why, after five years, are you optimistic tonight that a ceasefire could hold, that could lead to an end to the war in Yemen?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: As a leader, I must always be optimistic every day. If I’m a pessimist, I should leave my post and work somewhere else.

Norah O’Donnell: There are about a dozen female activists that have been detained for more than a year. Why were they put in jail?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: Saudi Arabia is a country governed by laws. Some of these laws I might disagree with personally, but as long as they are now existing laws, they must be respected, until they are reformed.

Norah O’Donnell: Is it time to let her (female activist Loujain Al-Hathloul) go?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: This decision is not up to me. It’s up to the public prosecutor, and it’s an independent public prosecutor.

Norah O’Donnell: Her family says that she has been tortured in prison. Is that right?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: If this is correct, it is very heinous. Islam forbids torture. The Saudi laws forbid torture. Human conscience forbids torture. And I will personally follow up on this matter.

Norah O’Donnell: You will personally follow up on it?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: Without a doubt.

Norah O’Donnell: Publicly you have pledged to change Saudi Arabia, to transform the economy, to talk about a moderate Islam, to allow women to have more rights. Yet there is a crackdown and a jailing of women who raise issues about things that need to change in Saudi Arabia. That is the perception, that you do not support women’s rights and human rights and that these are concrete examples of women who have been jailed.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: This perception pains me. It pains me when some people look at the picture from a very narrow angle. I hope that everybody comes to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and sees the reality, and meets women and Saudi citizens, and judges for themselves.

Norah O’Donnell: What lessons have you learned? And have you made mistakes?

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman: Even prophets made mistakes. So how come we, as humans, expect not to make mistakes? The important thing is that we learn from these mistakes and not repeat them.

This article was first published in Arab News

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