Wednesday 13 December 2017

Obama in Riyadh to meet with Persian Gulf leaders

President Obama with King Salman Photo: Reuters
President Obama with King Salman Photo: Reuters

Rachael Alexander

President Barack Obama landed in Riyadh yesterday to meet with Saudi King Salman and other Persian Gulf leaders.

The visit comes against the backdrop of increasingly strained relations with the Saudis, who remain deeply opposed to his outreach to Iran and skeptical of his approach to Syria.

Stepping off Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport, Mr Obama was greeted on a red carpet not by the monarch but by Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the governor of Riyadh. Saudi state television did not immediately air Mr Obama's arrival, but before he landed, State TV showed King Salman greeting other senior officials from Gulf nations arriving for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit.

Mr Obama's first stop in Saudi Arabia was a one-on-one meeting with King Salman at Riyadh's Erga Palace before the six-nation GCC summit opens today.

He was expected to spend little more than 24 hours in the Saudi capital before heading on to visits to London and Hannover, Germany.

In addition to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain are participating in the regional summit, which the White House said would focus on regional stability, counter-terrorism including the fight against the Islamic State and al-Qa'ida, and Iran.

Talks are also expected to address the Saudi-led military campaign against Shia rebels and their allies in neighbouring Yemen.

US officials have expressed hope the latest meeting will build on last year's Camp David summit, though they acknowledge differences remain between the US and Saudi Arabia.

The Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdom - the world's biggest oil exporter and the largest buyer of American-made weapons - sees Shia-led Iran as its main rival.

Saudi leaders are concerned that concessions granted to Iran in last year's nuclear deal will embolden it to pursue what the Saudis view as aggressive meddling throughout the region.

Saudi Arabia and Iran back opposing sides in the civil war in Syria and in the conflict in Yemen, where the US military is providing refuelling and other logistical help to the Saudi-led war effort.

Mr Obama's recent comment that the Saudis and Iranians should "share the neighbourhood" roiled officials in Riyadh. Still, in a sign of the importance of the Saudi Arabia to the US policy in the region, this is Obama's fourth trip here for face-to-face meetings and photos with royal rulers.

Ahead of Mr Obama's trip, a group of US senators are called on the president to press Saudi Arabia on human rights issues during the visit and raise the cases of two imprisoned advocates.

The White House said concerns about inclusive government and improved rights were on his agenda to discuss with the Saudis and the other Gulf leaders.

Irish Independent

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