Saudi Prince Visits Allies in First Trip Since Khashoggi Murder

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman started a tour of Arab countries, his first foreign trip since last month’s murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi triggered an international outcry and roiled the kingdom’s ties with Western powers.

The prince is expected to visit a number of countries, according to the official Saudi Press Agency, in a trip that is probably designed to show he is not isolated in the region despite the backlash over Khashoggi’s death. It follows recent public tours at home with his father, King Salman, a signal he also remains secure within Saudi.

Prince Mohammed arrived in the neighboring United Arab Emirates on Thursday, where he was met by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed, one of his staunchest allies in the region.

“Delighted to welcome our state guest, brother Mohammed Bin Salman,” Sheikh Mohammed said on Twitter, accompanied by pictures of the two at an airport. “We’re proud of our deep rooted ties.”

The prince also plans to attend the Group of 20 summit in Argentina later this month, according to the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television. President Donald Trump said he’d meet Prince Mohammed at the event, which will also be attended by Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

The murder of insider-turned-critic Khashoggi by government agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul sparked calls for sanctions from some U.S. lawmakers. Trump has vowed though to not let the killing upend his administration’s relations with the prince, citing the potential impact on oil prices, weapons sales and U.S.-led efforts to curb Iranian influence in the Middle East.

On his tour, Prince Mohammed will be also met by some of the leaders who jumped to the defense of Saudi Arabia’s leadership in the face criticism led by Erdogan who has urged the kingdom to come clean with all the culprits involved in the murder.

Saudi officials say the killing was carried out by rogue agents and have denied that the prince had any knowledge of their plan.

The kingdom’s prosecution has charged 11 people over the murder, accusing them of going “over their mandate” in killing Khashoggi. Among those under investigation is a close aide to Prince Mohammed.

“MBS needs to shore up regional support following an extremely difficult period, in which both his and the kingdom’s prestige and power have taken a serious blow,” said Michael Stephens, London-based RUSI research fellow for Middle East Studies. “It will no doubt be the first step in a series of measures to reassert his position on the world stage as a leader."

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.