NEW YORK — CBS’ Norah O’Donnell traveled to Saudi Arabia to conduct the first U.S. television interview with that country’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to run on “60 Minutes” shortly before he visits the United States.

O’Donnell said Wednesday it took nearly two years of requests, including a meeting with the crown prince at the Saudi embassy in the United States, before he agreed to the interview.

“They want the world to see them in a different light than perhaps the world’s perceptions are,” she said.

The 32-year-old leader of a key Middle Eastern ally of the United States has taken steps to modernize his conservative country since becoming heir apparent to King Salman. Bin Salman, who is visiting Britain this week, begins a trip to the United States on March 20.

Among the changes he has brought is allowing women to drive. O’Donnell said she visited a university where women are training for careers in medicine and are also offered driver’s education courses; bin Salman realizes that some of the contradictions of his country couldn’t be sustained, she said.

“The kingdom is at a crossroads,” said O’Donnell, who had been missing from her post as a “CBS This Morning” anchor for a week while pursuing the story. “Eighty percent of the population is under the age of 40. They can’t continue to be a country that lives off its oil wealth, either politically or culturally.”

It’s the first interview of a Saudi leader on U.S. television since one conducted by Barbara Walters in 2005, O’Donnell said. She was making her first visit to the country.


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