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Saudi Prince Will Court Trump In Visit — And Tech Execs And Hollywood, Too

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now it's time for our regular segment Words You'll Hear. That's where we take a look at a word or phrase that will be in the news and tell you why it's important. Today's words are actually a name - Mohammed bin Salman. He's Saudi Arabia's 32-year-old crown prince. He's heading to the U.S. this week. The controversial young prince is next in line for the throne, and now he's set for a cross-country U.S. tour. NPR's Deborah Amos is with us now to talk about the crown prince's visit, where he's going and what he's going to be doing while he's there. Deb, thanks so much for joining us.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Thank you.

MARTIN: So why is he here?

AMOS: Well, this is a cross-country PR tour. You know, he wants to reset Saudi Arabia's image. And it's also an investment tour. So that's why he's meeting with Apple, Microsoft, Uber, Google, Facebook, movie moguls in Los Angeles. He needs Western investment to diversify the Saudi economy. Now, this country - and the whole region - has historically relied on oil. Prices are dropping. Saudi Arabia is reeling. This young prince has ridden in a Tesla, and he can see the future.

MARTIN: So he's selling a new image of the kingdom, but has anything changed?

AMOS: You know, he amassed power quickly. His father is the king, so he could do that. He is viewed as a reformer at home. The ban on women driving ends this. Summer women can now join the military, open businesses, go to sporting events. There's a new entertainment industry that's opening.

He also cracked down on the religious police. And these are the guys who enforce attendance at prayers and enforce the strict public dress code. But he's also in other ways stumbled. He ordered the detention of more than 300 businessmen, former Cabinet officials and royals, in a corruption crackdown. They all got imprisoned in a five-star hotel. Investors on the outside said it looked more like a shakedown to them because these guys had to agree to give back billions of dollars before they could get out of the hotel.

Popular in the kingdom, not so popular with investors. That's part of the reason that he's here. He's also raised eyebrows with personal spending - a 440-foot yacht, a French chateau, a Da Vinci. Those are his reported purchases. And then there's Yemen. He was the defense minister when Saudi decided to side in that civil war. And he's going to have a tough sell in Congress. They want the U.S. to stop supporting that war.

MARTIN: Well, to that end, though, what kind of reception can he expect here in the U.S.?

AMOS: He's going to get a warm one at the White House. He has been working with Jared Kushner since shortly after the election but tougher in Congress because of Yemen. And a tougher audience still will be investors. This is the first time the Saudis are here to sell their own image. You know, the relationship has always been Washington to Riyadh. Now he is laser-focused on the economy, so he has a new audience to convince.

MARTIN: I'm asking you to speculate a bit here, Deb, but what are the chances that he actually can change one of the most-conservative societies in the world?

AMOS: That is the 64 million - or billion these days - dollar question. He has to because the kingdom faces a disaster if he can't because of the economy. He is no Jeffersonian Democrat, be sure of that. There has been, along with these reforms, a crackdown in the kingdom. So this is the biggest economy in the region. Saudi Arabia's stability is important to the United States. So what many analysts are saying is let us wish him well.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Deborah Amos. Deb, thank you.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.