US President Donald Trump praised close US-Saudi ties during an Oval Office meeting with visiting Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Prince Mohammad said the United States and Saudi Arabia can tackle “a lot of things” together in the future.
Prince Mohammed praised “very deep” relations between the two countries during his meeting with Trump in the Oval Office. It’s the first stop on a three-week tour of the United States by Prince Mohammad. Speaking in English, Prince Mohammad pointed out significant Saudi investments in the US. Trump said the US has “zero tolerance” for funding of terrorism. He said that Saudi Arabia is “working very hard” to cut off that funding.
Trump also noted that Saudi Arabia has been a great friend to the United States and is a “great purchaser” and “investor” in its economy. He said the relationship between the nations was “strained” during former President Barack Obama’s tenure but that he and the crown prince have become “very good friends in a short period of time.”
Trump brought props to the meeting to illustrate the close security partnership. He showed reporters a sign that listed Saudi purchases and another of pending sales of military equipment to the kingdom. Trump said Saudi Arabia is “footing a big part of the bill” for defence in the Middle East.
Beyond the Oval Office meeting with Trump, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, believed earlier this month to be possibly leaving the administration, will host a dinner for Prince Mohammad. The Saudi leader will also meet Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Labour Secretary Wilbur Ross, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to replace Tillerson.
On Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir told reporters in Washington that Saudi Arabia’s “relationship with the US is at an all-time high”.
The kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund announced on Monday that it would take a $400 million stake in Endeavour, one of Hollywood’s biggest talent and event managers. More deals are likely as the 32-year-old crown prince plans meetings with business leaders at a half-dozen stops across the US through April 7.
“When we look at the challenges that we face, whether it’s Iran, whether it’s Syria, whether it’s Yemen, whether it’s the peace process, whether it’s Libya, whether it’s supporting Iraq, whether it’s trying to stabilise Afghanistan, whether it’s terrorism and extremism and terror financing, our interests are completely aligned and our vision for what we think needs to happen is virtually identical,” Al Jubeir said.
One focus of Prince Mohammad’s meeting with Trump will be expanding cooperation to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East, including the Islamic Republic’s alliance with Russia, according to White House officials who briefed reporters before the crown prince’s arrival.
The agenda will also surely include the White House’s continuing efforts to develop a Middle East peace plan, an effort that appeared sidelined after Trump late last year declared occupied Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and said he’d move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. Few details have emerged since about the peace plan, brokered by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, but Saudi political support and financing are seen as critical elements.
Officials said Trump will also seek to negotiate an end to a simmering dispute between a Saudi-led bloc and Qatar, which the Saudis accuse of helping to finance terrorism. Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeatedly failed to negotiate an accord between the two sides. Trump will emphasise the importance of a strong and unified Gulf Cooperation Council.
Any agreement among the Gulf nations could be formalised at a Trump-hosted gathering at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, where the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord was first struck in the Carter administration, the administration officials said.
The high-profile tour and meetings with top officials across government signals a relationship between two nations that’s almost unrivalled since Trump took office in January 2017.
Traditional allies in London, Berlin and Ottawa have seen ties strained as the Republican president upends, or threatens to upend, historic trade and security agreements. Even South Korea, which has been at the centre of Trump’s biggest foreign policy crisis – North Korea’s nuclear missile development – hasn’t been spared from criticism of its trade deal with the US.
But relations with Saudi Arabia have only strengthened. Breaking with tradition, Trump even made his first foreign trip as president to Saudi Arabia last May.
From Washington, the theme turns more to business than politics, with an itinerary that will take the crown prince from Washington to Boston, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston. More than $35 billion of deals could be announced during the trip, according to a National Security Council official.