Saudi Arabia has claimed “a historic turning point” in relations with the US after President Donald Trump welcomed Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the White House earlier this week.
Trump, who took office in January, and Prince Mohammed, who is also the Kingdom’s Defense Minister, kicked off their talks in the Oval Office, where they posed for a picture in front of journalists but did not take questions.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s Senior Adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Chief-of-Staff Reince Priebus and Strategist Steve Bannon were also present at the Oval Office meeting with Prince Mohammed.
According to a Bloomberg report, a Senior Adviser to the Crown Prince said in a statement after the meeting that “relations had undergone a period of difference of opinion”. “However, today’s meeting has put things on the right track, and marked a significant shift in relations, across all political, military, security and economic fields.”
The praise for Trump’s “great understanding” of US-Saudi relations reflects the eagerness for a renewed alliance after deep strains with former President Barack Obama, who crafted the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
The new administration sees Saudi Arabia “as a crucial part of the Middle East and an important country to have a positive relationship with - even if there are irritants in the relationship,” said Simon Henderson, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and director of the institute’s Gulf and Energy Policy Program. “This is at odds with the Obama administration, so they want to make that clear distinction.”
The report said that Prince Mohammed bin Salman had lunch with Trump and aides at the White House on Tuesday. That’s a higher-profile meeting than an initially planned photo opportunity, according to Henderson.
Mohammed bin Salman’s visit follows a trip he made to Washington in June after unveiling his Saudi Vision 2030. Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Aramco, is also planning potentially the world’s biggest initial public offering, with as much as $100 billion in shares expected to be sold, said the report.
The Saudis also said Trump and the Deputy Crown Prince “share the same views on the gravity of the Iranian expansionist moves in the region.”
Gulf Arab officials have appeared optimistic about the Trump Presidency. They see in him a strong president who will shore up Washington’s role as their main strategic partner and help contain Riyadh’s adversary Iran in a region central to U.S. security and energy interests, regional analysts said.
The Saudis have appeared particularly relieved at the departure of Barack Obama, who they felt considered Riyadh’s alliance with Washington less important than negotiating a deal in 2015 to neutralize Iran’s nuclear program.
Obama late last year also suspended the sale of U.S.-made precision-guidance munitions to the Saudis, a reaction to thousands of civilian casualties from Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen.
U.S. officials said Trump was considering ending that ban and approving the sale of guidance systems made by Raytheon Company.
The State Department has approved the move, which awaits a final White House decision, the officials said.