Saudi Arabia’s new ambassador to Washington is son of the current king and the brother of the new crown prince. Having only recently presented his credentials to President Trump, Saudi Prince Khaled bin Salman talked with The Post’s Lally Weymouth last week. Excerpts:
Q. How do you see U.S.-Saudi relations?
A. There is a huge improvement in the Saudi-U.S. relationship under this administration. I think that President Trump is determined to work with his allies in the region to counter Iranian expansionism and terrorism. We are happy with the current policies in the region.
Your country and the United Arab Emirates are leading a boycott on Qatar. Should this be resolved?
I think Qatar’s policies have been a threat to our national security, especially when they interfere in our domestic politics and support extremists. ... In Syria, they have supported al-Qaeda affiliates and some terrorist [Shiite] militias in Iraq. We hope Qatar will stop funding extremism.
But nobody is really pure in your region. It is said that families in your country also support extreme groups in Syria?
The Saudi government is on the frontline of fighting terrorism. There might be people from a lot of different countries who support terrorism, but in Qatar the problem is that it is government-funded.
Are there really moderate groups to support in Syria?
There are some moderate opposition groups — for example, the Free Syrian Army. There are a lot of people in Syria who want to free themselves from the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. We are working with our allies to help stabilize Syria.
Do you see a way to create a transition so that President Assad can go?
I hope so. He has killed more than 500,000 people. We are working with the U.S. to end the Syria problem.
Wouldn’t the best solution be to get rid of Assad?
We now have a dynamic young leadership, determined to push the country forward and to diversify our economy.
What is your position regarding human rights in Saudi Arabia?
Every country moves forward, and we are. The last two years have been a time of big change in our country. Human rights have been moving forward, women’s rights have been moving forward. Saudi youth have been given a chance to play a part in our future.
Will women be allowed to drive? To leave the country without the permission of a male?
Our leadership realizes that women are important to our future and to moving our economy forward. We can’t move forward without half of our population.
Will Saudi Arabia one day have a relationship with Israel?
Saudi Arabia has stated that we want to solve the Palestinian-Israeli issue through the Arab peace initiative, and if Israel recognizes Palestine based on the 1967 borders, the Arab world has agreed to do so.
Turning to Iraq — it seems that Mosul has finally been freed from ISIS [also known as the Islamic State].
Yes, I think the success in Mosul shows the determination of the United States administration and also of the Iraqi military.
Isn’t now a key moment to be sure the Sunnis are incorporated in Iraq’s future?
The Sunnis and [Shiites] have to be incorporated.
If the Sunnis can’t participate in the future government in Iraq, won’t another terrorist group spring up?
Yes, sectarianism always leads to terrorism. The Sunnis and [Shiites] have to be treated equally as Iraqi citizens. Iran wants Iraq to obey Iran. We support the independence of Iraq.
Is there a solution to the situation in Yemen?
Saudi Arabia has been pushing all parties to the negotiating table.
But Saudi Arabia started this, right?
No, the Houthis started this. They started to march to the capital and take over Yemen before the Yemeni government asked Saudi Arabia to intervene and stop this attack. The ball is [now] in the Houthis’ court. They have to drop their weapons and become part of Yemen, not part of Iran.
Do you think ISIS is on its way out? Or are they regrouping in Africa and Libya?
We will be glad to see ISIS defeated in Iraq, but they are a threat to our nation and our religion. As Muslims, we in Saudi Arabia need to do whatever it takes to end this once and for all.
Hasn’t Iran threatened to close the Persian Gulf?
Multiple times in the past. The whole world, including our government, is worried about that. The Strait of Hormuz is important not just to our economy but to the international economy.
Do you feel the tide is turning now?
Yes, I do. I think the U.S. and its allies realize how big the Iranian threat is to international security, and we are ready to work together to contain Iranian actions and expansionist policies.
Do you feel that Americans associate your country with the Sept. 11 attacks?
We had nothing to do with 9/11. In 1996, Osama bin Laden issued a declaration of war against the United States and Saudi Arabia. In 1994, we took away bin Laden’s Saudi citizenship when he was in Sudan. We think the same people who attacked the United States on 9/11 attacked us in Saudi Arabia multiple times.
But 15 of the hijackers were Saudi citizens.
We see them as 19 al-Qaeda because those people represented al-Qaeda. There is a reason why al-Qaeda chose 15 Saudis. They wanted to create a split between Saudi Arabia and the United States.