By Arab News
By Ben Flanagan
A new “renaissance” was apparent in the artfully decorated Oval Office on Tuesday — as Saudi-US ties reached new heights after the tumultuous years of the Obama administration.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, embarking on a lengthy multi-city tour of the US, was greeted at the White House with a warm handshake by President Donald Trump, who said the relationship between the two states is now as good as it has “ever been.”
The meeting, attended by a small but raucous press corps, reinforced the reset in the countries’ relations following tensions under the previous US administration — and shows they are edging closer in trade, defense, and security ties, analysts said last night.
“We are the oldest ally (of the) United States of America in the Middle East — more than 80 years,” the crown prince said during the meeting at the White House, welcoming the “deep relations” between the two countries.
Speaking in English, Crown Prince Mohammed pointed out significant Saudi investments in the US.
The meeting between Trump and the crown prince came on the same day that the US Senate voted to kill a resolution calling for an end to the US involvement in the conflict in Yemen. The resolution, drafted by senators including Bernie Sanders, was defeated by a 55-44 margin.
President Donald Trump said Saudi Arabia and the US have a “great relationship” and that the Kingdom is assisting in the fight against terror financing.
“We have a zero tolerance for the funding of terrorists. And we’re working very hard, and I will say that Saudi Arabia has been working very hard on that,” he said.
He said the relationship between the nations was “very very 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.”
“The relationship now is probably as good as it has really ever been, and I think will probably only get better,” he said.
Talks were also expected to extend to cover Iran, which Saudi Arabia accuses of financing terrorism and meddling in regional countries’ affairs. The Kingdom’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir on Monday called the nuclear deal between Iran and Western powers a “flawed agreement,” and Trump has made clear he plans to exit the agreement unless changes are made to it.
“Iran has not been treating that part of the world, or the world itself, appropriately. A lot of bad things are happening in Iran. The deal is coming up in one month and you will see what happens,” Trump said on Tuesday.
Sigurd Neubauer, a Middle East analyst in Washington, said that the meeting between Trump and the crown prince shows that ties between the countries are stronger.
“There is no doubt that the US-Saudi relationship is having a renaissance,” he said, adding that the two men have an “extraordinary” personal relationship.
“They probably see each other as mirror images. Trump wants to make America great again … and Mohammed bin Salman wants to make Saudi Arabia great again,” said Neubauer.
It also emerged this week that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and US are launching a trilateral security forum to address Iran’s “malign activity” in the Middle East and other strategic issues.
The forum, to be held at the national security adviser level, will engage monthly on issues of strategic importance, including the US’ South Asia strategy, the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the war in Yemen, according to a US senior administration official.
Firas Maksad, director of the Arabia Foundation in Washington, said that the news showed that the US is looking to build closer ties with its allies in the Arabian Gulf.
“At a time of great change, both in Washington and in the Middle East, the announced trilateral security group signals US determination to coordinate more effectively with its closest Arab allies,” he told Arab News.
Crown Prince Mohammed also met today with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, according to the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
He also met with Senate majority and minority leaders, the house majority leader, the Senate majority whip, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The crown prince briefed the members on the Kingdom’s plans for economic transformation through Vision 2030, including recent reforms to empower women and youth in Saudi society.