US President to meet King Salman in bid to ease difficulties between the allies and to talk about Syria and Yemen.
US President Barack Obama has hosted Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House in a move aimed at thawing relations between the two countries after Washington’s apparent rapprochement with its main regional rival, Iran.
The 30-year-old prince – who has become the driving force behind Saudi foreign policy – discussed a host of challenges facing stability in the Middle East region on Friday after meeting Obama in the Oval Office – a rare honour for a non-head of state.
The two men called for an adherence to a cessation of hostilities in Syria and a political transition to end the reign of Bashar al-Assad. They also discussed the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group and the conflicts in Iraq and Yemen.
Briefing journalists after talks at the White House, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir repeated the kingdom’s desire to arm Syria’s “moderate opposition” with ground-to-air missiles and repeated an offer to deploy Saudi special forces in any US-led operation.
Jubeir noted that from the start of the crisis, Riyadh had pushed for “a more robust policy, including air strikes, safe zones, a no-fly zone, a no-drive zone”.
Obama has been reluctant to see US forces drawn into another conflict in the Middle East, and many in Washington are concerned that weapons sent to the rebels fighting Assad could fall into the wrong hands.
The leaders also discussed the conflict in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is backing a government in exile against the Houthi movement, which has been accused of receiving backing from Iran.
The Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels has resulted in large numbers of civilians casualties, according to the United Nations and human rights groups.
Obama “welcomed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to concluding a political settlement of the conflict” and the Gulf Cooperation Council’s efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the White House said.
Saudi Arabia has long perceived a lack of US engagement in the region, particularly in the face of what they see as Iran’s “interference” in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.
Those sentiments reached a new level in January after a landmark deal lifted crippling international sanctions on Iran in return for a scaling back of its nuclear program.