Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held talks with Greek leaders on Tuesday as the Saudi royal embarked on his first trip to EU states since the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In a sign that western leaders are seeking to bolster ties with the world’s top oil exporter despite concerns over human rights, Prince Mohammed was also scheduled to meet French president Emmanuel Macron this week, the Saudi state news agency said.
In Athens, Prince Mohammed held talks with prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and officials unveiled an agreement for a fibreoptic and data cable to connect Europe to Asia via the Arab kingdom.
“I promise you that when I come to Greece, I’m not coming empty-handed. We have many issues that will be game changers for both our countries and for the whole region,” Prince Mohammed was quoted as saying in a transcript distributed by the Greek government.
Officials also signed bilateral agreements on energy, technology, health and combating crime.
Prince Mohammed’s visit to Europe underscores how western states are deepening their engagement with the crown prince as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed oil prices to their highest levels in more than a decade.
Joe Biden visited Saudi Arabia this month and greeted Prince Mohammed with a hasty fist bump as the US president sought to persuade Riyadh to increase its oil output to help damp global energy prices.
The visit marked a remarkable U-turn for Biden, who during his election campaign promised to treat the kingdom as a pariah and not to engage with Prince Mohammed, the day-to-day ruler of the nation.
Shortly after entering the White House, Biden ordered the release of a US intelligence report that concluded Prince Mohammed authorised the operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Riyadh has blamed Khashoggi’s murder on a rogue operation. Prince Mohammed has denied any involvement.
Western nations widely condemned the killing of the veteran Saudi journalist but maintained ties with the kingdom as diplomats argued that they needed Riyadh’s co-operation on a range of issues, including energy, Middle East policy and climate change.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reinforced the kingdom’s importance to global energy markets as it is the de facto leader of Opec and, with the United Arab Emirates, the only producer with the spare capacity to increase production significantly.
Western governments and companies are also keen to tap Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth as the kingdom enjoys a petrodollar windfall that will boost the financial muscle of its Public Investment Fund.
The $620bn sovereign wealth fund, chaired by Prince Mohammed, has been one of the oil-rich Gulf’s most active investors in recent years as the crown prince transformed it to become the main driver of his ambitious plans to modernise the conservative kingdom.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson held talks with Prince Mohammed in the kingdom in March, four months after Macron became one of the first western leaders to visit the crown prince in Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi’s murder.