Saudis positive on Trump meeting with deputy crown prince
London - In his first meeting with a high-ranking Gulf official, US President Donald Trump hosted Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz at the White House in what was described by the Saudi side as “a historic turning point in bilateral relations”.
During discussions on a range of issues, both sides pledged to enhance cooperation in “political, military, security, economic, cultural, and social” dimensions to strengthen relations, a statement from the White House said.
Factoring heavily into the March 15th meeting with Prince Mohammed, who is also Saudi minister of Defence, were the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and the issue of Iran.
The White House statement said both sides “noted the importance of confronting Iran’s destabilising regional activities while continuing to evaluate and strictly enforce” the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. This was considered comforting to Saudi Arabia, which had perceived the United States pivoting towards Iran during the Obama administration.
Prince Mohammed stressed that the Iran nuclear deal was “dangerous” for the Gulf region and was only a temporary solution. A statement from a senior Saudi adviser said: “This deal could lead to a more dangerous and continuous armament among the region’s countries that will not accept any Iranian nuclear military capacity.”
“Saudi Arabia has always been keen to play its role in the region and in partnership with the United States. I think we are more than ready to cooperate with the United States on countering ISIS in Syria, in Iraq, across the region,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, an adviser to the deputy crown prince, told Fox News.
“Not just financially but the Saudi government offered in the Obama administration time to send it troops into Syria to fight ISIS. That was not met with enthusiasm by the Obama administration. I think that offer remains on the table and I’m sure the Saudi government is more than ready to support the US in eradicating ISIS, not just financially but with its own troops and its own people,” he added.
Also discussed was Trump’s travel ban, which affects six countries with majority Muslim populations. A statement from a senior adviser to Prince Mohammed said the kingdom “does not believe that this measure is targeting Muslim countries or the religion of Islam. This measure is a sovereign decision aimed at preventing terrorists from entering the United States of America.” It added: “Trump expressed his deep respect for the religion of Islam”.
Prince Mohammed acknowledged that intelligence from the kingdom confirmed “the existence of a plot against the United States of America that has been planned in those countries in secret”, adding that he understood the precautionary measures taken by the United States to protect itself from terrorist operations.
During the Obama administration, relations between Gulf Arab countries and the United States were strained, due to what was collectively perceived as Obama tilting towards Iran at the expense of Gulf Arab interests. Relations dipped to their lowest point in March 2016 when US President Barack Obama referred to several traditional US allies, including Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, “free riders” in a magazine interview.
In its conflict with Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen, Saudi Arabia saw the United States scale back support. This was capped off by the Obama administration’s decision to halt a$300 million sale of precision-guided missiles, which was recently unfrozen by Trump.
Trump “recognises the Saudi leadership as the primary conduit to the Muslim world,” said Salman al-Ansari, president of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC).
The Washington meeting was an affirmation by Trump’s team that the main source “for Middle Eastern stability, security and untapped mutual economic prosperity is Saudi Arabia”, Ansari told Agence France-Presse.
The kingdom’s media all carried headlines hailing the meeting as a success.
Commenting on the assessment of a senior adviser to the deputy crown prince, former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel Abdulrahman al-Rashed wrote in an editorial: “Today’s meeting has put things on the right track.”
“This clearly refers to putting things, which Obama ruined, on the right track and to restoring special bilateral relations that [have] traditionally been based on the agreements of the meeting that King Abdulaziz and US President Theodore Roosevelt held on board of the Navy cruiser Quincy after the end of World War II,” Rashed wrote.
An official Saudi source was quoted by the Daily Okaz newspaper as saying: “The next stage will see greater coordination and consultations between Riyadh and Washington in an effort to find fair and comprehensive solutions to numerous regional issues, including Iranian interference.”