US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman have spoken on the phone and reaffirmed their countries’ “strong” defence partnership, the White House has said.
The conversation on Friday between the two leaders came amid tensions over the kingdom’s oil output and after reports emerged that the United States planned to withdraw two Patriot anti-missile batteries from Saudi Arabia as it winds down a military build-up that began when tensions with Iran flared up last year.
Trump had worked last month to persuade Saudi Arabia to cut its oil output after an increase in production during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic put heavy pressure on US oil producers.
“The two leaders agreed on the importance of stability in global energy markets, and reaffirmed the strong United States-Saudi defence partnership,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.
“The president and King Salman also discussed other critical regional and bilateral issues and their cooperation as leaders of the G7 and G20, respectively.”
The statement did not mention the Patriot missiles and the White House declined further comment.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed the media reports that the missiles would be withdrawn, but he said it did not signal a decrease in US support for Saudi Arabia and was not an effort to pressure Riyadh on oil issues. He also said it did not mean Washington thought Iran was no longer a threat.
“Those Patriot batteries had been in place for some time. Those troops needed to get back,” Pompeo told the Ben Shapiro radio show. “This was a normal rotation of forces.”
Saudi Arabia said in a statement about the phone call that Trump confirmed the US committed to protecting its interests and the security of its allies in the region. Trump also reiterated US support for efforts aimed at reaching a political solution to the crisis in Yemen, the statement said.
The Saudi-UAE coalition, which receives support from Western powers, intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, shortly after the Houthi rebels took control of much of the country’s north and the capital, Sanaa.
The coalition, which intervened to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s internationally-recognised government, has carried out thousands of air attacks, killing thousands of civilians at hospitals, schools and markets, drawing international criticism.