Trump, Saudis hit reset button | 2017-03-17 |

Trump, Saudis hit reset button

Sun Online Desk     17th March, 2017 02:40:07 printer

Trump, Saudis hit reset button

US President Donald Trump meets with Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the Oval Office at the White House on March 14, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Saudi officials are heralding a new era in relations after watching their stock tumble in Washington under the Obama administration. And the Trump White House is signaling a strengthened partnership as it begins to reshape US involvement in the Middle East, CNN reports.


The work to reset relations was on full display this week when Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince and his delegation met with Trump and his top advisers at the White House Wednesday, just one of a series of high-level meetings between Saudi and US officials in recent days.


The Saudis extolled the meeting as a "historic turning point," and one Saudi source in the meeting described it as "exceptionally warm." A senior White House official confirmed the rosy portrait to CNN and called the meeting "very important."


Pressed Thursday at the Pentagon about whether his country would be willing to put Saudi troops in Syria to fight ISIS, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman replied: "We are willing to do anything to eradicate terrorism, without limits."


And in a coup for the White House, Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites, expressed support for the Trump administration's travel ban, which has targeted several Muslim-majority countries and triggered anger throughout the Muslim world.

"His Excellency expressed his understanding and support for this vital and urgent precaution measure to protect the United States of America from expected terrorist operations," a senior adviser to the prince said in a statement.


"Prince Mohammed considers his Excellency (Donald Trump) as a true friend of Muslims who will serve the Muslim world in an unimaginable manner, opposite to the negative portrait of his Excellency that some have tried to promote, whether through publishing unjust statements that are taken out of their context or by means of unrealistic media commentaries and analyses about his Excellency."


The Saudis also pledged billions of dollars in investments in the US, which would help Trump politically with his promise of boosting the US economy and creating new jobs -- and even touted the success of a border fence they built on the country's border with Iraq, an apparent reference to Trump's plans to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.


While the Trump administration has talked tough on Iran, it has done little so far to suggest a radical shift in how the US tackles growing Iranian influence in the region, an issue deeply concerning to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.


Saudi Arabia still fears increased Iranian influence in Yemen, where Riyadh is struggling in its fight against Iranian-backed rebels. The Obama administration blocked an arms sale to Saudi Arabia in December over concerns about the rising civilian death toll in Yemen, and the kingdom is eager to see that arms transfer green-lit.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia has been reluctant in to boost its involvement in the anti-ISIS coalition, carrying out a small fraction of airstrikes against the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, Weinberg noted.


Trump has made greater involvement of countries in the region a central tenet of his plan to recalibrate the fight against ISIS, calling on Gulf states to provide funding for the fight and help address the issue of refugees.


But Shihabi, the Saudi government adviser, said Saudi Arabia views Syria as a "lost cause." Older sources of stress in the US-Saudi relationship might also reemerge should Trump revert to his criticism of Saudi Arabia on the campaign trail. During the 2016 race, he knocked the country for insufficiently compensating the US for its military presence in the region and scolded the Clinton Foundation for accepting money from Saudi Arabia despite its human rights record.