Saudi prince seeks to repair ties, promote business on US visit

WASHINGTON: Saudi Arabia's powerful deputy crown prince held a full day of meetings with US lawmakers on Wednesday, part of a visit aimed at restoring frayed ties with Washington and promoting his plan to wean the kingdom away from oil revenue.

Mohammed bin Salman, son of Saudi Arabia's King Salman, is expected to meet US President Barack Obama on Friday.

Lawmakers said his discussions on Wednesday, including meetings with the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees and House Speaker Paul Ryan, emphasized his push to help end Saudi dependence on oil by 2030.

"I know that there are tremendous cultural challenges that he’ll have to overcome, but if he’s 50 percent successful, it will be something," said Republican Senator Bob Corker, who chairs the Foreign Relations committee.

The "Vision 2030" plan relies on an expanding private sector, selling shares in the Saudi state-owned oil company and reducing government subsidies. It faces obstacles in the kingdom's conservative religious establishment and a population used to government largesse.

"It was a fairly compelling vision. It was an interesting, detailed and engaging presentation of his economic vision, and then how that translates to regional stability," said Senator Chris Coons, a Democratic foreign relations committee member.

Prince Mohammed's US tour, expected to last more than 10 days and include stops in California and New York, comes amid increasing tensions in the U.S.-Saudi alliance.

The US Senate on May 17 passed a bill allowing the families of Sept. 11 attack victims to sue Saudi Arabia for damages.

The White House has threatened to veto the measure, and CIA Director John Brennan said on Sunday he expects 28 classified pages of a US congressional report into the attacks to be published, absolving Saudi Arabia of any responsibility.

Globally, the Saudis are unnerved by Obama's nuclear agreement with archrival Iran, and want Washington to do more to help oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The 30-year-old Prince Mohammed, despite his youth and his title of deputy crown prince, wields tremendous influence in Saudi Arabia and is also defence minister.

Corker said the prince raised concerns over the United States opening to Iran and Russia's attempt to increase its Middle East role.

"He did a good job of laying out some of the complications that have arisen ... relative to our dealings with Iran and the fact that people in the region are turning toward Russia as a second ally."