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Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince arrived in Washington on Monday, kicking off a multicity trip through the United States to shore up U.S. ties and seek investment opportunities as the kingdom overhauls its oil-dependent economy.
The trip is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's first since replacing his cousin as Saudi Arabia's king in waiting last year. It also follows his controversial arrest of hundreds of wealthy Saudis, including princes, officials and businessmen in November.
The trip will be a crucial test of the 32-year-old Salman's ability to justify to wary investors the harsh tactics that have accompanied his social and economic reform efforts. It also lays the groundwork for a U.S. visit later this year by his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi embassy in Washington DC said on Sunday.
Up until this week, the Saudi government had released few details about the trip. It typically keeps the schedules of high-ranking officials like Crown Prince Salman opaque for security purposes.
On Sunday, the embassy confirmed what had been widely reported: The prince plans to travel first to Washington DC and then on to New York City, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.
On Monday, the Saudi embassy and the White House firmed up other details of the trip.
On Tuesday, Salman is scheduled to meet President Donald Trump, the White House said last week.
The first leg of Salman's trip in the nation's capital is expected to focus on defense ties. Under Salman, who also serves as minister of Defense, Saudi Arabia has adopted a more muscular foreign policy, launching a polarizing war in neighboring Yemen that has dragged on for three years and isolating the tiny monarchy of Qatar.
Salman has also dialed up the rhetoric against regional rival Iran. In an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday, he said the kingdom would work quickly to obtain a nuclear bomb if Iran developed one.
Senior Trump administration officials on Monday said Trump and Salman will discuss the Gulf crisis, the war in Yemen and Iran's influence in the region. They also said the United States and Saudi Arabia will open new channels for security cooperation, including launching a trilateral dialogue among the U.S., the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates.
Salman is also expected to meet with high-level administration officials including Defense Secretary James Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the officials said.
The Saudi delegation is also scheduled to meet with Bethesda, Maryland-based defense company Lockheed Martin.
The Saudis agreed in principle to purchase 48 Typhoon combat jets from British defense company BAE Systems during Salman's trip to the U.K. earlier this month. The long-stalled deal has yet to be finalized.
Anti-war groups planning demonstrations in several cities could create troubling optics for the prince.
Demonstrators are gathering Tuesday morning in front of the White House and on the steps of City Hall in New York to call attention to the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen, which has contributed to a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world's poorest nation.
Salman will next travel to Boston on March 24 for meetings with educational stakeholders, the Saudi embassy confirmed.
Protests are also planned for Boston, where Salman is expected to visit MIT, which has partnered with the Saudi government and state oil giant Saudi Aramco on several projects.
The crown prince heads to New York City on March 26, where he will meet with business leaders and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Salman will also participate in a forum of American and Saudi chief executives to discuss developments in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is trying to attract foreign capital to the kingdom, but an anti-corruption crackdown that swept up influential Saudis and came shortly after an investment summit in Riyadh last fall has rattled investor sentiment.
Last week, The New York Times published an investigation alleging widespread coercion and physical abuse of detainees held at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.
The Saudis have cast the detentions as an anti-corruption campaign aimed at clawing back more than $100 billion in ill-gotten gains. But many analysts say the arrests also amounted to a political purge aimed at consolidating power under Salman and shoring up the nation's coffers at the expense of rivals.
Explaining the campaign to investors and easing their concerns will be one of the crown prince's key goals during the visit, analysts told CNBC last month.
Congress could vote this week on bipartisan legislation that would end U.S. involvement in Yemen's war. The United States is providing limited intelligence and refueling to the Saudi-led coalition, in addition to supplying the kingdom with weapons.
Salman arrives on the West Coast on March 30, making stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle to meet with philanthropists and leaders from the tech, defense and entertainment industries. The embassy confirmed meetings with Apple and Google-parent Alphabet.
Building up Saudi Arabia's technology sector is also a major part of Salman's plan to reshape the kingdom's oil-dependent economy.
It remains to be seen whether any big tech deals will be announced during Salman's visit to Silicon Valley. Aramco CEO Amin Nasser told CNBC earlier this month that the kingdom has held talks with Amazon and Alphabet about building data centers in Saudi Arabia.
Salman is also seeking to develop the entertainment and theme park sectors. That will likely be the focus of his stopover in Los Angeles.
Salman wraps up his trip in Houston, the nation's corporate energy capital, where he will visit one of Aramco's research centers and Saudi-controlled Motiva's refining facility in Port Arthur, the nation's largest refinery.