By Barbara Ferguson
6 March 2014
During his forthcoming high-profile visit to Saudi Arabia, US President Barack Obama will meet with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah in Riyadh during the last week of March, following the US leader’s trip to the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy.
The president’s trip also includes a nuclear security meeting in The Hague, a summit meeting of the United States and the European Union in Brussels, and a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Recent events, however, could distract from the president’s trip overseas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly told President Obama this Monday, during his visit to the White House that he would never compromise on Israel’s security despite the president’s assurances on Middle East peace talks and Iranian nuclear diplomacy.
And, in what is being viewed as a major crisis for the White House, Washington is rushing to build a coalition to oppose further Russian advances, following the invasion of Russian troops into the Ukrainian region of Crimea last week.
Despite developing international tensions, Obama’s upcoming trip to Riyadh is meant to highlight Saudi Arabia and the US long-time close relationship. The two leaders are expected to discuss their countries’ bilateral relations and a number of key security issues in the Gulf. The president is expected to seek to reassure King Abdullah of American support in the region, where Gulf allies of the US have grown increasingly frustrated with American policies toward Iran and Syria.
Riyadh and Washington had disagreements over the handling of the Syrian crisis, now three years old.
Last October, Saudi Arabia garnered world attention when it turned down a seat on the United Nations Security Council in protest over the failure of the international community to work to end the war in Syria.
The White House has been frustratingly reticent regarding details of the upcoming trip, but Saudi Arabia’s Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif recently met with White House officials to discuss security cooperation and efforts to curb violent extremism and terrorism across the Middle East; all issues are expected to be on the agenda during the president’s visit to Riyadh.
King Abdullah met US Secretary of State John Kerry in Riyadh last November and the decision of the US not to intervene in Syria and its recent outreach to Iran figured at the meeting.
A year ago in March, President Obama travelled to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan; and met last month with Jordan’s King Abdallah in California.
President Obama previously met King Abdullah in Riyadh in 2009 and in Washington in 2010. There currently are no other plans for the president to meet with other Gulf leaders.