RIYADH: GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN
Published — Sunday 30 March 2014
Last update 31 March 2014 12:40 am
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and US President Barack Obama agreed to work closely and remain strategically “aligned” on a range of bilateral and regional issues, said a senior US official in Riyadh on Saturday.
“In his two-hour candid talks with King Abdullah, President Obama underscored how much he values their strategic relationship,” said Johann Schmonsees, a spokesman at the US Embassy.
Obama, who wrapped up his visit on Saturday, also addressed the differences between Riyadh and Washington in his talks with the king over security interests across the Middle East.
The US highlighted the progressively growing relations with the Kingdom in diverse fields — counterterrorism, defense, economy, education, science, health and the environment.
There are more Saudi students in the US now than ever before, with over 80,000 students representing the Kingdom’s future political, business, and social leadership.
“The US has had an important relationship with Saudi Arabia for decades in security, energy, economics and regional security issues. The president wanted to make clear that this continues to be the case,” Johann said.
He said Obama had an “excellent” meeting with King Abdullah lasting more than two hours on Friday night.
“It was an opportunity for the US president to sit down face-to-face with the king and do two things — underscore the importance of bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia and talk about some of the key regional issues that affect both of our interests so profoundly,” said Johann.
Before leaving Riyadh, Obama had presented the US State Department’s Women of Courage award to Maha Al-Muneef, a well-known Saudi social worker who was honored for her role in combating domestic violence.
“I am doing this on behalf of Michelle Obama,” said Obama as he presented the award at a brief ceremony at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
Al-Muneef is the executive director of the Kingdom’s National Family Safety Program.
Political analyst Khaled Al-Dekhayel said that Saudis and Americans appeared to have “narrowed” their disagreements on Syria and Iran following talks. “But at the same time, the US administration has to satisfy Saudis and other allies in the region, including Turkey and Jordan,” said Al-Dekhayel.
Saudi analyst Abdulaziz Al-Sagr, who heads the UAE-based Gulf Research Center said: “Saudi-US relations have actually become tense due to Washington’s stance on issues in the Middle East, but especially Iran.”
Al-Sagr fears that a possible US withdrawal from the Middle East and a diplomatic overture toward Iran would further fuel Tehran’s regional ambitions.
The US and Saudi Arabia are working together to address a number of critical bilateral and regional issues, including resolving the crisis in Syria, preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, launching counterterrorism efforts to combat extremism and supporting negotiations to achieve peace in the Middle East.
A fact sheet released by the White House on Friday recalled and appreciated the Saudi efforts to curb terrorism.
“Saudi Arabia has been a strong US counterterrorism partner, particularly on disrupting Al-Qaeda elements,” said the White House report. “We work closely with Saudi authorities on a range of terrorism issues, including countering terrorist financing.” The report also spoke about the growing cooperation in the defense sector.
It said that US and Saudi defense forces enjoy outstanding partnerships and regularly participate in “joint exercises to advance shared interests in Gulf security.”
“The Kingdom is the largest US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customer, with active and open cases valued at approximately $97 billion, as Saudi forces build capabilities across the full spectrum of regional challenges,” it said.
The report further said the US and Saudi Arabia are currently enhancing partnerships on critical infrastructure and border security.