Obama on Saudi visit meets with King Abdullah

Obama’s visit came following difference between the two allies over Iran and Syria

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President Barack Obama began a fence-mending official visit to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Friday and met King Abdullah for talks that aides said focused on Middle East peace, Iran and ways to strengthen the Syrian opposition.

King Abdullah received Obama in Rawdat Khurayim, a desert camp 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Riyadh shortly after the U.S. president landed in the capital.

A White House statement said: “In his meetings with King Abdullah in Riyadh, President Obama reiterated the significance the United States places on its strong relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has endured for over 80 years.”

“The United States and Saudi Arabia are working together to address a number of critical bilateral and regional issues, includingresolving the crisis in Syria, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, counterterrorism efforts to combat extremism, and supporting negotiations to achieve Middle East peace,” the White House statement added.

Despite their decades-long alliance, the United States and Saudi Arabia faced major rifts in recent years over Obama's outreach to Iran and his lukewarm involvement in the Syrian civil war.

Reuters quoted a senior U.S. official as saying that President Obama and Saudi King Abdullah discussed "tactical differences" in their approach to some issues, but agreed both sides remain strategically aligned.

Obama also assured Abdullah that the United States would not accept a bad nuclear deal with Iran, the official said, adding
that Washington remained concerned about providing some shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft weapons to Syrian rebels.

Last year senior Saudi officials warned of a “major shift” away from Washington after bitter disagreements about its
response to the “Arab spring” uprisings, and policy towards Iran and Syria, where Riyadh wants more American support for rebels.

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One on the flight to Saudi Arabia that the issues at the heart of Obama's meetings with Abdullah include Gulf security, Middle East peace, Syria, Iran and Egypt, according to AP.

Secretary of State John Kerry traveled with Obama for what will be the president's third official meeting with the king in six years.

On Syria, Rhodes said Obama did not plan to make any specific announcements about additional assistance to opposition forces. He said the United States and Saudi Arabia have been working together closely to coordinate their assistance to the rebels.

Rhodes said that coordination has helped put the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia “in a stronger place today than it was in the fall when we had some tactical differences about our Syria policy.”

“We are in a better place today than we were seven months ago,” Rhodes said.

Obama upset Saudi Arabia by scrapping plans to launch a military strike against Syria, choosing instead to back a plan to strip Syrian President Bashar Assad of his chemical weapons.

Rhodes said Obama would update the king on the nuclear talks with Iran. He said Obama would also make the point that those negotiations do not mean U.S. concerns about other Iranian activities have lessened, including its support for Assad and Hezbollah, as well as its destabilizing activity in Yemen and the Gulf.

“Those concerns remain constant and we're not in any way negotiating those issues in the nuclear talks,” he said.

[With AP and Reuters]