Saudi king stresses US ‘friendship’

The president is set to consult Washington’s Gulf allies on the crises in Yemen and Syria in particular

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King Salman emphasized on Wednesday Saudi Arabia’s “friendship” with the US in a meeting with President Barack Obama held in Erga Palace in the capital Riyadh, Al Arabiya News Channel reported.

President Obama is expected to participate in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit with the Gulf Arab leaders on Thursday.

Iran’s continued interference in regional affairs is expected to be on the agenda for tomorrow’s summit.

Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in what is expected to be his final visit to the kingdom before he leaves office this year.

Dressed in a grey suit, Obama emerged at 1:14 pm local time and descended the steps of Air Force One at the Saudi capital's King Khalid International Airport.

He met with Saudi King Salman, before a Gulf Cooperation Council summit of leaders from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar and Oman on Thursday.

The president is set to consult Washington’s Gulf allies on the crises in Yemen and Syria in particular. Prior to Obama's arrival, US defense chief Ashton Carter met with GCC defense ministers.

Find out more with our special coverage of Obama’s Saudi visit:

Looking back at Obama’s ties with Saudi Arabia during his two terms

Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia: A chance for some Syria home truths?

Obama’s presidency sees shift in US-Saudi trade ties

Opinion: Why Obama is visiting a different Saudi Arabia this time

While the two powers have warm ties that stretch back for seven decades, Saudi Arabia has been frustrated with Obama on a number of issues, including the US-led Iranian nuclear deal.

Last year, the US and five other world powers negotiated a deal Iran to end its economic and diplomatic isolation in return for curbs of its nuclear program.

Since March last year, Saudi has led an Arab coalition battling Iran-backed Houthi militias and forces loyal to the deposed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who control the capital and much of the country’s north.

The Arab coalition is seeking to restore the internationally-recognized government of Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi to power. A fragile UN-backed truce between warring parties is currently holding. The US has provided logistical support.

Unspoken hurdle

Both the US and Saudi have backed moderate opposition groups in Syria, where a devastating five-year-conflict shows little signs of stopping.

Recently, Saudi Arabia has established a 34-state Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism in Syria, among other countries, and expressed its willingness to the US to send Saudi ground troops to the country.

On the eve of Obama’s visit, a US official said that Washington wishes greater special forces and naval cooperation with Gulf states to counter Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the region. Saudi is keen to curtail the activities of both the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and the Houthis, which it sees as Iranian proxy groups.

A messy, unspoken hurdle for the two allies to trudge past is Obama’s recent comments to The Atlantic magazine, in which he said Saudi Arabia and its nemesis Iran need to “share the neighborhood” rather than expect the United States to use its military power to settle scores on behalf of its Gulf allies.

Then, in a rare open letter to Obama, a prominent Saudi prince explained his view of the Obama administration’s commitment to the kingdom. Prince Turki Al-Faisal, who once headed the kingdom’s intelligence agency, wrote in response to The Atlantic interview that the president had given King Salman assurances in Washington last September on the need to counter Iran’s “destabilizing activities,” but “now, you throw us a curveball.”

He rejected Obama’s characterization of Saudis as “free riders” before asking Obama if he had “pivoted to Iran so much” that he had equated Saudi Arabia’s long-standing friendship with the U.S. to Iran’s leadership.

After concluding his Saudi visit, Obama will then travel to Britain and Germany.

At Erga’s palace, the following US delegation members attended the meeting with King Salman alongside President Obama:

1- Susan Rice, US National Security Advisor
2- Ashton Carter, US Secretary of Defense
3- Joseph Westphal, US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
4- Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism
5- Benjamin Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speech-writing
6- Josh Earnest, White House Press secretary
7- John Brennan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
8- Robert Malley, Senior Advisor to the President for Counter-ISIS & White House Coordinator for Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region
9- Jeff Prescott, Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Gulf States
10- Sean Misko, Director for Gulf States

This article is part of Al Arabiya English’s Special Coverage on Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

(With AFP and AP)

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