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US President visits Saudi Arabia, seeks to reassure allies - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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US President Barack Obama (L) is welcomed by Prince Khaled Bin Bandar Bin Abdulaziz, Emir of Riyadh (3rdL), upon his arrival at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 28, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/SAUL LOEB)

US President Barack Obama (L) is welcomed by Prince Khaled Bin Bandar Bin Abdulaziz, Emir of Riyadh (3rdL), upon his arrival at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 28, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/SAUL LOEB)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—US President Barack Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia on Friday following a tour of European capitals earlier this week, in order to reassure the Washington’s Arab allies of its commitment to the region.

Obama is set to meet with Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh, with Saudi Arabia confirming that the two leaders will discuss ways of enhancing bilateral relations and international issues of common interest.

US National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said “the two leaders will discuss our ongoing cooperation to advance a range of common interests related to Gulf and regional security, including Iran, Syria, negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, countering violent extremism, and other issues of prosperity and security.”

“The President values the King’s insights, and looks forward to meeting with him in person to discuss a very robust agenda,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“It will be an opportunity to reinforce one of our closest relationships in the region and build on the strong US-Saudi military, security and economic ties that have been a hallmark of our bilateral relationship,” she added.

The visit comes at a sensitive time for the Middle East. This is the first time Obama has visited Saudi Arabia since the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and comes amid regional divisions over the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization earlier this month amid diplomatic tensions between the Kingdom and Qatar over the Islamist group.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, the director of the Saban Center for the Middle East at the Brookings Institute, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Obama’s visit to Riyadh is important. It should be the beginning of continuous and more intensive dialogue. It is important to have clear day-to-day channels for dialogue, with confidence on both sides that those channels are authorative and decisive.”

Saudi Arabia has appeared concerned about Washington’s role in the region following its troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, greater domestic energy independence, and rapprochement with Iran.

The US National Security Council spokesperson told Asharq Al-Awsat the two countries share core strategic interests despite any differences, saying: “Good friends sometimes have differences, but they are able to work through those differences. That is the case between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”

“Iran remains a critical part of our agenda with our Gulf partners. Even as we pursue a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue, our commitment to the security of our Gulf partners remains steadfast,” Meehan said.

Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers signed an interim agreement in Geneva in November last year in which Iran agreed to freeze parts of its nuclear program in exchange for a relaxation of economic sanctions. The countries are now working towards a comprehensive deal, with a six-month deadline fast approaching.

According to Meehan, during his trip Obama will address the Iranian issue with Saudi officials, and that he will “make clear to Iran’s leaders that its government’s sponsorship of illicit actions is unacceptable to the international community,” in the hopes of addressing one of Saudi Arabia’s key concerns about the thaw in US–Iran relations.

President Obama and the Saudi King will also discuss the Palestinian–Israeli negotiations and the ongoing Syrian conflict. “We share with Saudi Arabia a desire to resolve the conflict in Syria in a way that addresses all dimensions of the crisis. Our coordination of assistance to the Syrian opposition has been increasingly effective,” Meehan said.