WHITE HOUSE —
Against the backdrop of war in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, and concerns about Iran’s behavior, U.S. President Barack Obama will welcome Saudi King Salman to the White House Friday. It will be the Arab leader’s first visit to the United States since ascending the throne in January, following the death of King Abdullah.
The one-on-one talks between President Obama and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman could not come at a more tumultuous time in the Middle East, as a U.S.-led coalition fights Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, and a Saudi-led coalition beats back Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen.
“Many people in the Gulf, in fact the entire Arab World, are concerned about the U.S. position in the Gulf, about the Iran nuclear agreement, about what is happening in terms of Iran’s expanding influence in the Levant, in Iraq, in Yemen,” said Center for Strategic and International Studies security analyst Anthony Cordesman..
Cordesman added that while Friday’s meeting at the White House will likely not produce a dramatic shift in policy, the dialogue will be critical to building Saudi confidence, particularly in the recently negotiated Iran nuclear agreement.
“They have to be firmly convinced the United States is going to enforce it, is not going to ignore any violations, they will take a hard stand on it,” he said.
Beyond the nuclear deal, Iran’s behavior in the region will likely also factor into the two leaders' discussion on Iraq.
Former U.S. ambassador Francis Ricciardone, now with the Atlantic Council, said Saudi Arabia has a stake in seeing its northern neighbor stabilized.
“I should think the discussion between President Obama and King Salman on Iraq will be very interesting, as to what each side can do to support Prime Minister Abadi in holding that country together and strengthening its independence from a hegemonistic influence,” said Ricciardone.
Ending the fighting, urging political reconciliation and addressing a humanitarian crisis – goals both leaders likely will push for, not just in Iraq and Syria, but in Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbor Yemen, where Saudi airstrikes continue to pound Houthi rebel targets on a regular basis.