Why did Saudi Arabia's MBS speak to Fox News and what did he say?

Why did Saudi Arabia's MBS speak to Fox News and what did he say?
The New Arab has put together the key giveaways of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's wide-ranging interview with Fox News, which aired on Wednesday.
6 min read
21 September, 2023
Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader's interview on "Special Report with Bret Baier" dominated Saudi media on Thursday [Getty]

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave a wide-ranging television interview, which aired on Fox News on Wednesday, in which he addressed numerous issues but most notably the Saudi-Israeli normalisation deal and Riyadh's possible development of a nuclear program.

Known by his acronym MBS, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader's interview on "Special Report with Bret Baier" dominated Saudi media on Thursday, with reports highlighting remarks that a resolution of the Palestinian issue was essential to any normalisation deal with Israel, as well as his comments that if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would have to do the same.

The interview, which was recorded on Saudi Arabia’s Sindalah Island, aired shortly after President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while both were in New York for the meeting of the UN General Assembly.

Why Fox news?

Fox News, a prominent American conservative outlet with close ties to the Republican party, made a notable decision to interview Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The US network's interview raised eyebrows, considering the widespread condemnation from rights groups due to numerous documented human rights violations during MBS's reign.

Some of these violations were detailed in a recent HRW report exposing the systematic shooting of migrants by Saudi border guards. MBS is also widely believed to be personally involved in the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who criticised him in a number of articles.

Fox News, known for pursuing high viewership ratings, found the interview with MBS to be an opportunity to achieve just that.

A timeline of US-Saudi relations under Biden administration
Pre-election: Biden vows to make Saudi Arabia a 'pariah nation' over human rights
January 2021: Biden assumes office, vows to take a human-rights-centered approach to foreign policy, end Yemen war
February 2021: Biden releases intelligence report concluding MBS ordered killing of Jamal Khashoggi
April 2021: Biden speaks to King Salman by phone – the two leaders agree to strengthen ties
Sept 2021: Biden meets MBS virtually, says he raised issue of Khashoggi murder
July 2022: Biden travels to Saudi Arabia, meets MBS to try to secure oil deal
March 2023: China-brokered Saudi-Iran deal, as US downplay the initiative

More liberal US channels have so far refrained from interviewing MBS due to the controversies surrounding the powerful prince, particularly concerning Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record and the Khashoggi killing.

The United States maintains historically close ties to the Saudi leadership, but that relationship has also been hit by controversy over MBS's role in the murder of Khashoggi, who was a US resident.

The New Arab has put together the key takeaways of Fox News' interview with MBS.

US-brokered Israel normalisation deal

The Saudi de facto leader said that the normalisation of relations with Israel was getting "closer", denying reports that the Saudis had suspended US-brokered talks with Israel.

"Every day we get closer," MBS told Bret Baier, adding that Riyadh was seeking more progress on ensuring the rights of the Palestinians, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right government continues to pursue settlement-building in the occupied West Bank.

"For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part," MBS said. "We hope that we'll reach a place, that will ease the life of the Palestinians and get Israel as a player in the Middle East."

Asked whether Riyadh would be willing to work with Netanyahu - who currently heads Israel's most right-wing government to date - the crown prince said: "If we have a breakthrough, reaching a deal that gives the Palestinians their needs and (making) the region calm, we’ve got to work with whoever’s there."

MBS added that a US-brokered normalisation deal would be "the biggest historical deal since the end of the Cold War".

Live Story

Iran's nuclear weapons

In the interview, Prince Mohammed said that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons there would be no alternative but for Saudi Arabia to do the same.

"If they get one, we have to get one," the crown prince remarked, adding that it would be necessary "for security reasons, and for balancing power in the Middle East, but we don’t want to see that".

He warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons, saying: "We are concerned of any country getting a nuclear weapon" when asked about Iran in particular. 

"That’s a bad, that’s a bad move," he added. 

He suggested trying to get nuclear weapons is a futile pursuit since deploying them was equivalent to declaring war on the world. 

"Even if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, [if] any country uses a nuclear weapon, that means they are having a war with the rest of the world," he said.

"The world cannot see another Hiroshima. If the world sees 100,000 people dead, that means you are in a war with the rest of the world."

Khashoggi killing

MBS, who had given very few interviews to Western media outlets since the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, admitted to Fox News that "mistakes" were made.

Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist, was killed in an operation by Saudi agents that US intelligence says was likely approved by the prince. The crown prince had denied any involvement.

Commenting on the killing, MBS said: "We tried to reform the security system to be sure that these kinds of mistakes don’t happen again."

"It was a mistake. It was painful," he added, while insisting that "everyone involved" served jail time.

"We try to reform the security system to be sure that this kind of mistake doesn't happen again, and we can see in the past five years nothing of those things happened. It's not part of what Saudi Arabia does," MBS said.

"We take all the legal measurements that any country took… We did that in Saudi Arabia and the case being closed."

Live Story

'Ashamed of Saudi laws'

The Saudi crown prince said he was "ashamed" of some of the kingdom’s regressive laws after a retired teacher in Saudi Arabia was recently sentenced to death over tweets that were critical of Saudi leadership.

"Shamefully, it's true. It's something I don't like," bin Salman told Fox News.

After Baier asked him why he was unable to use his position to change laws he disagreed with, bin Salman replied: "We are doing our best."

"We have already changed tens of laws in Saudi Arabia, and the list has more than 1,000 items. In the cabinet, they have only 150 lawyers, so I’m trying to prioritize the change day by day.

"But we are not happy with that. We are ashamed of that. But [under] the jury system, you have to follow the laws and I cannot tell a judge [to] do that and ignore the law, because… that’s against the rule of law. But do we have bad laws? Yes. We are changing that, yes."

Mohammad Alghamdi's death sentence came after he ran two anonymous accounts on X (formerly known as Twitter), which together had only 10 followers. He mainly reshared posts critical of the government, according to Human Rights Watch.

Live Story

Dodges question on Trump

Six months after Trump left the White House in 2020, his son-in-law and former senior adviser Kushner secured a $2 billion investment from the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) led by MBS. 

When asked whether this created a conflict of interest - and if the Saudi royal family would pull the money should Donald Trump win re-election - the crown prince said "if it's legal, what's the problem?"

"We look for opportunities in investment," he continued. "We have a lot of investment around the globe with a lot of people with economic opportunity."

Live Story

On whether the $2 billion would remain with Kushner even if Trump becomes president again, MBS answered in the affirmative. 

"It's a commitment that PIF have and when PIF have a commitment with any investor around the globe, we keep it," he said.   

Pushed on whether he recognised that this could create a conflict of interest, MBS said: "Saudi Arabia is so big, so I'm quite sure almost any person around the world directly or indirectly you have something to do with Saudi Arabia.

"So if that can affect President Trump's decision if he becomes a President, that means it can affect every president in the world and every person in the world's decision. 

"Because directly and indirectly, they have some sort of interest in something to do with Saudi Arabia."