US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are expected to strengthen an already warm relationship between the two countries.

This file photo taken on March 14, 2017, shows US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman shaking hands in the State Dining Room before lunch at the White House in Washington, DC.
This file photo taken on March 14, 2017, shows US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman shaking hands in the State Dining Room before lunch at the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)

Donald Trump will host Saudi Arabia's crown prince in Washington on Tuesday, giving the president a receptive audience to denounce rival Iran and a chance to take stock of significant changes the prince is engineering in the kingdom.

Ten months after the last face-to-face meeting between Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh, the 71-year-old president and the 32-year-old strongman prince are expected to strengthen an already warm and congenial relationship. 

But they are also expected to take up major developments for Saudi Arabia, both internally and externally: the end of a ban on Saudi women driving, the unprecedented detention of dozens of people that was billed as a high-level anti-corruption purge, Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen and the crisis with the Gulf state of Qatar.

Iran high on the agenda

Mutual rival Iran will be high on the agenda, but the 32-year-old strongman prince will also be looking to showcase his sweeping changes to Saudi society.

The following are quotations from an interview he gave to American CBS News on Sunday ahead of his meeting with Trump.

The role of women

Prince Mohammed has implemented some reforms on women's rights, loosening clothing restrictions, pushing for greater participation in the workforce and, significantly, lifting a ban on women driving.

But guardianship laws, which require women to seek the permission of male relatives for a host of activities, remain in place.

"We have extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone together and their being together in a work place. Many of those ideas contradict the way of life during the time of the Prophet," he said. 

"We are all human beings and there is no difference."

Roots of Saudi extremism

The prince acknowledged Saudi society was dominated by a particularly harsh strain of conservative Islam, which he traces back to 1979, the year of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the seizure by extremists of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

"We were victims, especially my generation that suffered from this a great deal," he said.

"This is not the real Saudi Arabia. I would ask your viewers to use their smart phones to find out. And they can google Saudi Arabia in the 70s and 60s, and they will see the real Saudi Arabia easily in the pictures.

"We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979."

The purge of princes

He defended at length his anti-corruption purge, which saw many of the kingdom's princes and tycoons detained for several weeks inside Riyadh's luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel - widely seen as an attempt to cement his grip on power.

"What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary" and legal, he said.

He said he was able to recover more than "$100 billion" of ill-gotten wealth from the detainees, but added, "The idea is not to get money, but to punish the corrupt and send a clear signal that whoever engages in corrupt deals will face the law."

His personal wealth

The prince has been accused of hypocrisy over his opulent lifestyle at a time his government is preaching greater austerity of its citizens and has imposed new taxes.

He was recently revealed as the owner of a French chateau described as the world's most expensive home, according to a report in the New York Times.

But he insisted his wealth was a private matter. "As far as my private expenses, I'm a rich person and not a poor person. I'm not Gandhi or Mandela."

He added, "But what I do as a person is to spend part of my personal income on charity. I spend at least 51 percent on people and 49 on myself."

Ascent to the throne

As heir to the throne after his father King Salman dies, the young prince could be set to rule the kingdom for the next half century or more.

Asked what could stop him, he replied, "Only death."

Source: AFP