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Saudi foreign minister addresses changes in his country

Splits with the Trump administration over moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, wants to broaden the Iran nuke deal and discusses Jared Kushner.

by Andrea Mitchell and Abigail Williams /
Adel Bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, speaks during the 54th Munich Security Conference (MSC), in Munich, Germany on February 18, 2018.Ronald Wittek / EPA file

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Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said Monday there was no lack of due process in the consolidation of power by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and denied reports that Saudi princes were beaten while they were held in a Ritz Carlton hotel until they turned over billions of dollars, calling the suggestion of physical abuse "absolute nonsense."

"Wrongdoing was discovered and the people were brought in and shown the evidence and they were told if you acknowledge your wrongdoing and if you give back the funds that you stole, you can walk," he said in an interview with NBC News' Andrea Mitchell. "If not, you go to trial, the public prosecutor will take care of it and you could end up in jail for many, many years."

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Asked about the bin Salman's controversial and wide-ranging changes, he said, "They are rational changes, not radical changes. They are quantum leaps in terms of taking Saudi Arabia into the modern era."

Bin Salman met in the White House on Monday with President Donald Trump.

The foreign minister also downplayed the closeness of the 32-year-old crown prince and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, saying, "We have close connections with many U.S. officials." Asked if the Kushner real estate business has tried to get funding for projects from Saudi investors, including the government, he responded, "That's not true, that's not true."

With the Saudis and the Trump administration closely allied against Iran and the multi-party nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration, Al-Jubeir argued that the deal should be extended beyond its current expiration in eight years and favored bolstering inspections of undeclared military sites. The Saudis, like Trump, also argue that it should be broadened to ban ballistic missiles and Iran's support for terror groups in the region.

One issue on which the Saudis disagree with the administration is Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem on May 14th, potentially foreclosing Palestinians claims to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

"We have made our position very clear when this happened," Al-Jubeir said. "We said this is contrary to the principle of not taking unilateral action that could prejudge the outcome of final talks. It undercuts the principle that the Jerusalem issue is the final status issue. We have said that this would be seen as provocation in the Islamic world and it would undercut the ability to move the process forward."

On other issues, the crown prince's closest foreign policy adviser defended his country's three-year war in Yemen, asking, "Why do people call what's happening in Yemen a quagmire and what's happening in Iraq and Syria not a quagmire? Isn't the United States in an international coalition, haven't they been fighting in Afghanistan for almost, what, 17 years?"

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