Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is expected to arrive in Washington for an official visit on 19 March to court investors for the Kingdom’s sweeping economic diversification programme.
A visit by Saudi Arabia’s reforming prince will seek to regain investor confidence in the country, shaken by recent shake-ups of the military and business community.
The 33 year-old is expected to arrive in Washington for high-level meetings with key White House officials, according to a report by UAE state-owned newspaper the National.
The prince will then travel to the US cities New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle to pitch his Vision 2030 to US investors.
Middle East business analyst Charles Kestenbaum said the Saudis are aiming for investment in IT and high-tech sectors to bank-roll the Kingdom’s ambitious economic diversification program and steer the Kingdom’s energy-rich economy away from cheap oil.
In order to achieve these essential goals, the global finance community must feel that investment in the Kingdom will face risk factors that are fully identified and deemed manageable.
Recent turmoil in country has dampened investor interest.
Earlier this week Saudi Arabia announced a restructuring of its defence ministry and a string of new military appointments that are thought to have been in the works for years.
The shake-up comes on the heels of a corruption purge that sent shock-waves through the regional business community in November as more than 50 tycoons and princes were imprisoned in the glitzy Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh for three months before agreeing to pay financial settlements to secure their release in late January.
The government planned to recover over $106 billion for their release, the Saudi attorney general said when 56 people remained in custody.
In an interview with the Washington Post this week the Crown Prince compared the purge to chemotherapy and confided that it was necessary to meet budget targets.
Kestenbaum said the detentions frayed Saudi Arabia’s ties to the global business community.
Unfortunately, recent actions taken by MbS have, at least for the moment, undercut the very security global capital requires.
The timing of the detentions “couldn’t be worse”, according to Kestenbaum, coming shortly after a high-profile global investment seminar in the same hotel, the Future Investment Initiative, attended by many of the detainees to encourage foreign investment in a slew of new projects, including a $500 billion mega city in the Red Sea called Neom.
At the same time, newspapers were reporting that MbS purchased a private yacht valued at $400 million and paid $450 million for the Van Gogh sold recently at auction in London.
Encouraged by the Kingdom’s promise to pump billions into economic growth projects, the world’s largest fund manager BlackRock and private equity firm Blackstone plan to open offices in Saudi Arabia, the prince told Reuters in October.
During a visit by Trump to the Kingdom in May, the US struck $350 billion in deals, while Blackstone and the investment arm of Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth arms, the PIF announced a $40 billion Infrastructure fund.
Kestenbaum adds investors will expect the Saudi government to establish transparency and the rule of law.
It will be difficult for the Crown Prince to reform royal corruption, make the markets more legally and commercially transparent, and employ the millions of under-30 Saudis he now represents. It will be almost impossible unless some sense of predictability is restored to the economy.
A special relationship
Efforts to mediate diplomatic fallout between Qatar and several Middle East countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is also expected to be on the agenda during the Crown Prince’s US visit, according to New York University professor Adam Ramey.
Trump has formed a relationship with bin Salman who replaced his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef, as first in line to the throne in June 2017, and tweeted his support for the powerful prince during the corruption purge, and when he orchestrated a blockade of Doha with Gulf allies for their alleged support for extremist groups.
The relations between the two are pretty strong; MBS wants to reform Saudi Arabia domestically and assert a more direct role in the international affairs of the MENA region.
Bin Salman is pursuing policy goals in line with US interests without the need for a direct US military role. This is the best of both worlds for Trump, who is less interested than his predecessors in foreign interventions.
In his explosive and controversial expose of the Trump administration, Fire and Fury Michael Wolff wrote that when bin Salman became Crown Prince Trump boasted that he and his special adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner had “their man on top” in the Kingdom.
Some international media outlets are noting that Qatar is winning the propaganda war in the ongoing dispute. Bin Salman is likely trying to make sure that President Trump is still on his side. I’m confident that he is.