Trump, Saudi Arabia in mutual embrace | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 17, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:04 AM, March 17, 2017

Trump, Saudi Arabia in mutual embrace

US President Donald Trump may not be popular in much of the Muslim world but he has been embraced by Saudi Arabia and, in turn, has reached out to the oil-rich kingdom.

A meeting Tuesday in Washington between Trump and the powerful Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, confirmed that the new government in Washington sees Riyadh as a critical partner for both security and investment, analysts say.

Prince Mohammed, 31, whose country is the birthplace of Islam, was one of the first foreign leaders to visit Trump, who has vowed to fight "radical Islamic terrorism".

His trip followed a series of laudatory comments towards the new administration from Saudi Arabia, whose relations were increasingly frayed under former president Barack Obama.

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 AFP from Washington.

His committee is a private initiative to strengthen Saudi-US ties.

Anwar Eshki, a retired Saudi general and founder of the independent Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies in Jeddah, said Trump invited Prince Mohammed "to make the plan for the Middle East" together.

He said they want to counter both Shia Iran and the Islamic State group of Sunni extremists who control territory in Syria and Iraq and have claimed attacks in other countries.

Leaders in Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia have welcomed the Trump administration's views toward their regional rival Iran.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has described Iran as "the biggest destabilising force in the Middle East".

Trump has opposed the July 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran that saw international sanctions lifted in exchange for guarantees that Tehran will not pursue a nuclear weapons capability.

Riyadh regularly accuses Tehran of interference throughout the region, including in Syria where it backs the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and in Yemen.

Eshki said Trump's administration could step up military assistance for the Saudi coalition to help pressure the rebels into returning to peace talks.

Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said it remains unclear "whether there will be practical plans" to better contain Iran and improve counter-terrorism.

But Washington clearly sees Riyadh as "a critical strategic partner," Cordesman said.

The US and Saudi Arabia have a decades-old relationship based on the exchange of American security for Saudi oil.

While Trump's proposed 90-day ban on the entry of nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen has prompted criticism in much of the Muslim world, there has been no outcry from Riyadh.

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