RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince hosted a delegation of American Christian evangelicals on Tuesday, state media said, the latest such visit as the conservative Muslim kingdom seeks to repair its image of religious intolerance.
The visit comes on the eve of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, in which most of the hijackers who crashed jetliners into the twin towers in New York were identified as Saudi nationals.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met the delegation, led by Israeli-American author Joel Rosenberg, at his palace in the western city of Jeddah, the official Saudi Press Agency said.
“Honoured to be back in kingdom of Saudi Arabia for (the second) time in less than a year,” Rosenberg said on Twitter.
“We met (with) his royal highness the crown prince (and) other senior officials to discuss terrorism, peace, religious freedom and human rights.”
The delegation also met Prince Khalid bin Salman, the kingdom’s deputy defence minister, and secretary-general of the Muslim World League Mohammed al-Issa, SPA reported.
The crown prince hosted a similar delegation led by Rosenberg that travelled last November to Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and where the practice of other religions is banned.
Saudi leaders have courted a flurry of representatives of various Christian traditions in recent months.
In April 2018, Saudi Arabia hosted French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who headed the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Tauran, who died in July 2018, was seen as an energetic promoter of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam.
And in November 2017, the head of Lebanon’s Maronite church, Beshara Rai, paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia where he met King Salman and Prince Mohammed.
Prince Mohammed, the heir to the Saudi throne, has sought to project a moderate image of his austere kingdom, often associated in the West with jihadist ideology.
The self-styled reformer has faced global criticism for the kingdom’s poor human rights record including the jailing of political activists and critics. -- AFP