Saudi deputy crown prince promotes Vision 2030 in the US
LONDON - Despite recent disputes between the long-standing allies, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz made a high-profile visit to the United States, including a meeting with US President Barack Obama, a trip characterised by political, security and economic dimensions.
Relations between Riyadh and Washington deteriorated in recent years, mainly over the US nuclear deal with Iran and the failure to agree on an endgame in Syria.
Given that Obama has less than seven months in office, the question arises as to the timing of the prince’s visit but Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir described a closed-door meeting between the prince and Obama as “very positive”. Obama broke protocol by hosting the prince in the White House’s Oval Office, a site usually reserved for heads of state.
“The timing of the visit is important. It obviously comes at a time when relations are under some strain due to pending legislation in the US Congress,” said Fahad Nazer, a political analyst with JTG Incorporated.
The US Congress is considering legislation that would allow relatives of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia and there is a simmering controversy over 28 unreleased pages from the 9/11 Committee investigation of the attacks that has led some members of Congress to question Saudi Arabia’s commitment to countering terrorism.
“This is despite the fact that US counterterrorism officials give the Saudis high marks in this regard. There is also pending legislation that would restrict arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” Nazer added.
Saudi Arabia is a member of the US-led coalition conducting air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria. The Saudis have also pledged ground troops to that fight if necessary. The United States is providing the Saudi-led coalition battling Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen with logistical and intelligence support. The two countries have long been partners in the war on terror.
“The Syrian issue was undoubtedly central to Prince Mohammed’s talks with US officials, including President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter,” said Salman al-Ansari, president of the Washington-based Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC).
Ansari, whose organisation works on bettering US-Saudi relations, pointed out that there are signs of a significant manoeuvring with regards to Syria, including Carter’s recent meeting with other NATO defence ministers in Brussels, which may have been regarding coordination of efforts in Syria.
Ansari’s assessment comes after 52 US State Department officials petitioned Obama about his strategy in Syria. They called for targeted military strikes on the Assad regime to stop truce violations.
Prince Mohammed, who is also the Saudi Defence minister, and Carter held talks, which covered a wide range of issues, described by US spokesmen as “very productive”.
An important component of the deputy crown prince’s US agenda is to promote his Vision 2030 economic reform plan. Prince Mohammed leads Saudi Arabia’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs and announced details of reforms in April. The programme is designed to wean the kingdom’s economy off its oil dependency, while creating jobs and stimulating the private sector.
“It is clear that increasing direct foreign investment is a major component of this ambitious package of economic reforms and Saudi officials appear keen to include American companies in their plans going forward,” Nazer said.
The kingdom’s Public Investment Fund has announced a $3.5 billion investment in San Francisco’s Uber Technologies, one of the most widely used ride-hailing apps. Uber is expected to use $250 million to expand its Middle East presence.
A statement by the National Economic Council after a meeting with Prince Mohammed, welcomed the kingdoms’ economic reform drive, adding: “Both sides agreed on the importance of economic diversification, expanding private sector employment opportunities, renewable and natural gas development, and the beneficial role US companies could play in implementing Saudi reform objectives.”