By Joyce Karam
Saudi-US relations were firmly in the spotlight Tuesday as President Donald Trump hosted Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House for their first official meeting.
The meeting was dubbed a “reset moment” in US-Saudi relations after eight years clouded with differences under the Obama administration over its handling of the Arab Spring, the Iran nuclear deal, arms sales and the war in Syria.
This potential reset is, however, seen as more “transactional” by some, as the Trump administration attempts to engage different stakeholders in the region.
Focus on Yemen
Trump’s working lunch with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also Saudi Arabia’s second deputy premier and defense minister, was in the “Old Family Dining Room” on the State Floor of the White House.
The meeting marks the first official visit to the White House by any Arab leader since Trump took office in January.
Vice President Mike Pence, chief strategist Steve Bannon, senior adviser Jared Kushner, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were seen in photos in the Oval Office prior to the lunch, according to the White House press pool.
US sources with knowledge of the visit told Arab News that “Yemen is a primary focus” for the meetings, in gauging the Trump administration’s views and ideas for finding a settlement to the war.
Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics, told Arab News that the Saudi prince’s trip “is broad-ranging, crossing many issues and sectors” and that it sets “the next stage of the US-Saudi strategic relationship.”
Karasik noted, however, the different atmosphere and policy approaches that will face Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on this White House meeting, as compared to those under Obama.
“The Trump approach is different from that under the Obama administration, it is more aggressive and rooted in transactional foreign policy,” Karasik said. He defined the Trump style as “pushing and pulling at the stakeholders to come to some type of solution,” something that comes “with higher risk but greater payoff.”
Higher expectations are being set for US-Saudi relations under Trump, other analysts said.
Andrew Bowen, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), told Arab News that the deputy crown prince’s visit to Washington marks “an opportunity to reset the relationship and put it on better footing after a rough period of relations between President Obama and Riyadh.”
Bowen anticipated a generally better road ahead for US-Saudi relations under Trump, as compared to Obama.
“Trump means business and a deal can certainly be worked out between Washington and Riyadh. Will the Saudis get everything they want? No. Will the relationship fall below their expectations? Probably,” he said.
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