Trump, Saudis Hit Reset Button
Albanian Daily News
Published March 17, 2017
US President Donald Trump meets with Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the Oval Office at the White House on March 14, 2017 in Washington, DC.

It's reset time for the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi officials are heralding a new era in relations after watching their stock tumble in Washington under the Obama administration. And the Trump White House is signaling a strengthened partnership as it begins to reshape US involvement in the Middle East.

The Saudis have begun to view Trump as a like-minded partner -- one who put Iran "on notice" early in his presidency and has vowed to take a tougher line on the Saudi nemesis than his predecessor. His team also seems less likely to chide the kingdom on human rights issues, a perennial thorn in the US-Saudi relationship.

Trump, meanwhile, is eager to win an increased commitment to fighting ISIS from wealthy Gulf nations, and Saudi Arabia would be the ideal first domino to trigger an increased regional commitment.

But the fresh relationship will be tested by each side's willingness to deliver on what the other is looking for -- and could ultimately end in disappointment for both parties.

The work to reset relations was on full display this week when Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince and his delegation met with Trump and his top advisers at the White House Wednesday, just one of a series of high-level meetings between Saudi and US officials in recent days.

The Saudis extolled the meeting as a "historic turning point," and one Saudi source in the meeting described it as "exceptionally warm." A senior White House official confirmed the rosy portrait to CNN and called the meeting "very important."

Ali Shihabi, executive director of the Arabia Foundation, who was part of the Saudi delegation to the White House, said the Saudi leadership and the Trump administration are in "perfect alignment" on the Iran nuclear deal and said Trump understands Saudi Arabia's conflict with Iran is an "existential battle."

Pressed Thursday at the Pentagon about whether his country would be willing to put Saudi troops in Syria to fight ISIS, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman replied: "We are willing to do anything to eradicate terrorism, without limits."

And in a coup for the White House, Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest site, expressed support for the Trump administration's travel ban, which has targeted several Muslim-majority countries and triggered anger throughout the Muslim world.

"His Excellency expressed his understanding and support for this vital and urgent precaution measure to protect the United States of America from expected terrorist operations," a senior adviser to the prince said in a statement.

"Prince Mohammed considers his Excellency (Donald Trump) as a true friend of Muslims who will serve the Muslim world in an unimaginable manner, opposite to the negative portrait of his Excellency that some have tried to promote, whether through publishing unjust statements that are taken out of their context or by means of unrealistic media commentaries and analyses about his Excellency."

It remains to be seen how much substance the kingdom will put behind such statements, however.

"When I see statements like this -- which are frankly completely over the top -- even the least skeptical journalist should be asking him or herself, is this a reality?" said Simon Henderson, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Gulf and Energy Policy Program.

Henderson argued it was not -- at least not yet -- and said the statements revealed an "eagerness to kiss goodbye to the Obama administration and deal with the Trump administration."

"Whether there is the difference which they're trying to claim is a bit of an open question," he added.

David Weinberg, an expert on Saudi Arabia at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, suggested the adulatory Saudi statements were part of a strategy.

"It's hard to tell how much of this afterglow is genuine enthusiasm versus flattery," Weinberg said, pointing to the Saudi reference to a "historic turning point" and exuberant praise of Trump. "Clearly there's part of a strategy there to go after this president's personality style."

(Source: CNN)

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