The Riyadh Summits: From tensions to strategic partnership

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin

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The visit of US President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia, and his participation in three summits with Saudi Arabia, GCC member-states, and Arab and Muslim countries was an unprecedented historic event. The three summits with representatives of over 50 Arab and Muslim countries was larger than the fourth summit of South American-Arab countries that was held in Riyadh in 2015.

This success reflected the growing importance of the role of Saudi Arabia in the international community with its ability to gather such a huge attendance due to its status, the wisdom of its leadership and the strength of its economy, which has enabled it to be a leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds. The summit also highlighted the power, weight, role and impact of Saudi foreign policy on the course of many important and thorny issues in international relations.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman said: “The Saudi-American summit will enhance relations and international peace and security. It will establish partnership in the face of extremism and spreading tolerance.”

The summit was positive and the two sides reached considerable agreement on many political issues concerning terrorism and Iran’s negative influence in the region. It resulted in the signing of agreements worth $400 billion, which will create hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides. This is the largest deal in the history of relations and a major indicator of the improvement in bilateral relations after the chill experienced with the former administration.

Agreement on many issues

As for the Gulf-American summit, it was the third in two years, preceded by Camp David 2015 and Riyadh 2016, and was special due to the fact that it was the first summit of the Trump administration.

There was significant agreement on many issues regarding peace and security in the region. Moreover, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding for the inauguration of a center to drain the sources of terrorism financing. Thus, the summit was an historic opportunity for both parties to strengthen strategic relations and to embark on fruitful dialogue on many issues of common interest. The agreement to hold the summit annually in order to review the progress made concerning what has been agreed upon indicates serious intent on both sides to move forward on common issues.

Trump shared the Arab and Muslim countries’ growing concerns over Iran and the need to work on isolating it in order to end its interference

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin

President Trump’s speech during the Arab-Muslim-American summit with representatives of 50 Arab and Muslim countries was positive and reassuring. It came after much controversy regarding his policy toward Muslims and the Muslim ban during his campaign.

Growing concerns about Iran

Trump shared the growing concerns of Arab and Muslim countries about Iran and the need to work on isolating it in order to put an end to its interference. The summit resulted in the inauguration of the Global Center for Combating Extremism in Riyadh, which is intended to exchange information on foreign fighters and the movement of terrorist organizations, which I believe to be a much needed step in border protection and exchange of information regarding the movement of foreign fighters to areas of conflict.

In addition, there was an explicit agreement between the participating countries to combat all forms of terrorism as they welcomed the provision of 34,000 soldiers as a reserve force to back up operations against terrorism in Iraq and Syria.

Finally, the three summits manifested the effective and positive role played by Riyadh in many regional issues, which cannot be omitted in any proposed resolution. During the reign of King Salman and due to the complexities of the regional and global scene, Saudi foreign policy has shifted from neutrality to initiative in order to protect its interests and to restore regional peace and security.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on June 1, 2017.
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibrahim.othaimin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin.

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