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A Wild Ride Behind the Scenes as Saudi Crown Prince Does America

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kasigo2526    0

The phone call came at 8 p.m. from the Saudi royal court: Come to The Plaza, immediately.

We journalists rushed over to the Manhattan hotel, but it was almost three hours before anything happened. And when it did -- when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Masayoshi Son, Softbank’s chief executive officer, wordlessly signed papers and declared that a “huge step in human history” had been taken -- we had no idea what they were talking about. As the prince left, Son stood still for several long seconds before taking questions

“What just happened?” I ventured.

The public signing of a Saudi plan to build a $200 billion solar facility was indeed historic. If successful, it will be the world’s largest solar-energy installation by a factor of 100. But no one told us what was going on as we sat on the floor (no chairs). It was just another day -- or night -- in the chaotic life of the hundreds of officials, business figures and communications consultants who are trailing the heir to the Saudi throne around the world as he tries to drum up investment and boost his country’s image. He’s in the middle of a three-week U.S. visit. After Washington, Boston and New York, the delegation headed to the West Coast for meetings with Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the heads of Amazon, Apple, Google and Uber.

The trip got off to a madcap start when the Saudis applied at the last minute for more than 500 U.S. visas, according to a person familiar with the matter. As organizers weighed whether to allow media access to a gala dinner in Washington, I was invited, dis-invited and then re-invited.

At least three government entities, along with outside firms, are involved in coordinating press coverage of the visit but information has been scarce. Journalists gleaned the outline of the prince’s schedule -– when he would travel to different cities, who would accompany him and whom he would meet –- through rumors and anonymous sources.

Part of the tension appears to be over how much to publicize -- and how much change the Saudi public can handle. While in New York, Prince Mohammed met with U.S. Zionist leaders, But the participants were sworn to secrecy. Meanwhile, another meeting he held in New York, with religious figures including Roman Catholic clergy and two rabbis, was heralded by the Saudi embassy as inter-religious dialogue that “emphasized the common bond among all people, particularly people of faith.”

Asked about the unannounced meeting, one Saudi government representative didn’t respond while a second referred back to the press release about the interfaith gathering without further comment.


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Edited by kasigo2526

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