In the three years since he emerged as a central player in Saudi Arabia's government, Mohammed bin Salman has seemed to be a young man in a hurry. The 32-year-old was officially named crown prince of Saudi Arabia earlier this year, but well before that, he had announced broad plans to transform both Saudi Arabia's culture and its economy. At a conference this week in Riyadh, the prince made headlines by calling for the Kingdom to "return to moderate Islam". He suggested that his country's embrace of a particularly strict version of Islam was a reaction to Iran's 1979 revolution. But questions are being asked as to whether the prince will be able to push his reforms through the country's conservative bureaucracy and religious establishment.
Now, after recent drone and missile attacks on Saudi oil facilities raised doubts about the willingness of the United States to intervene on Saudi Arabia's behalf, Prince Mohammed, 34, the kingdom's de facto ruler, needs allies. But the suspicion that he is an accomplice to a gruesome murder continues to haunt him. "Khashoggi is always going to be a stain on Mohammed bin Salman," said Hala Aldosari, a Saudi scholar and fellow at the M.I.T. Center for International Studies. "It is not going to go away." Prince Mohammed has pushed ahead with his social reforms.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia exchanged laughs and clasped hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday in an incongruously celebratory moment as they took their seats among other world leaders for a meeting in Buenos Aires during an economic summit. It was the surest sign yet that the crown prince can still expect a warm welcome from at least some heads of state even after American intelligence agencies and many Western officials have concluded that he authorized the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist ambushed two months ago by Saudi agents in a consulate in Istanbul. The prince has denied advanced knowledge of the killing. The Group of 20 summit meeting, a gathering of the leaders of the world's largest economies, is a closely watched test for Crown Prince Mohammed, the 33-year-old favorite son of the aging King Salman and de facto ruler of the oil-rich kingdom. An Argentine prosecutor has begun an inquiry into potential criminal charges against the crown prince for human rights abuses, including allegations that he was responsible for the torture of Mr. Khashoggi and certain Saudi prisoners, as well as for war crimes committed by Saudi-led forces fighting in Yemen.