US president defends cooperation with the kingdom despite increasing concerns about human rights violations.
US President Barack Obama, leading a heavyweight US delegation to one of its most important Gulf allies, has arrived in Saudi Arabia in a show of support for the country’s new King.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who assumed the throne of the oil-rich country after the death of long-time leader King Abdullah on Friday, formally welcomed the US delegation on Tuesday along with heir Crown Prince Moqren and Mohammed bin Nayef.
The US and Saudi Arabia have longstanding ties and remain bound by shared interests in regional stability and oil.
Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counterterrorism or dealing with regional stability.
But analysts say Riyadh has grown dissatisfied with what it sees as a lack of US engagement with regional crises as Washington looks to Asia.
The US president had been meeting with his Indian counterpart, Nahendra Modi, in a landmark visit, but cut the trip short to make the four-hour stop in Riyadh.
Ben Rhodes, US Deputy National Security Adviser said the trip was an “opportunity to both pay respects to the legacy of King Abdullah, who was a close partner with the United States and also to touch base on some of the issues where we’re working together with the Saudis,” which include the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, Yemen, and the Iranian nuclear negotiations.
Obama said ahead of his visit that he addressing human rights issues and issues of counterterrorism with the Gulf Kingdom needed to be balanced out.
“Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counterterrorism or dealing with regional stability,” Obama said in a CNN interview in advanceof his arrival.
“On this visit, obviously a lot of this is just paying respects to King Abdullah, who in his own fashion presented some modest reform efforts within the kingdom,” Obama said.
Partners against ISIL
Despite vast differences of opinions on many issues, the US and Saudi Arabia have worked in close coordination to address evolving security concerns in the tumultuous region.
James Baker, secretary of state during the first Gulf War against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, among the 29-member visiting US delegation said: “I believe it is important that we demonstrate to the Saudis the importance that they represent to us.”
“This is an extraordinarily critical and sensitive time in the Middle East when everything seems to be falling apart. And the kingdom in some way is becoming an island of stability,” he said.
Most recently, Saudi Arabia became one of a handful of Arab nations that have joined the US in launching airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
In his initial days on the throne, the 79-year-old Salman has given little indication that he plans to bring fundamental changes to his country’s policies. He’s vowed to hew to “the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment.”