Obama and Abdullah discuss Syria, Iran, Egypt
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah on Friday discussed a host of issues with U.S. President Barack Obama during their meeting in Rawdat Khuraim, 60 km northeast of Riyadh.
The issues include Gulf security, Syria, Iran, Mideast peace process and Egypt, sources privy to the talks said.
Several senior princes and officials attended the talks. King Abdullah also hosted a dinner for the US leader and his delegation.
Secretary of State John Kerry sat at Obama’s side for the visit that is the president’s third official meeting with Abdullah in six years.
Sources said the Kingdom wants the United States to shift its position on support for Syrian rebels, particularly Washington’s reluctance to supply them with surface-to-air missiles, sometimes known as manpads.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One on the flight to Saudi Arabia that coordination with the Kingdom on Syria policy, particularly regarding providing assistance to the Syrian rebels, had improved.
“That’s part of the reason why I think our relationship with the Saudis is in a stronger place today than it was in the fall (autumn) when we had some tactical differences about our Syria policy,” he said.
But he added Washington still had concerns over the supply of manpads to rebels, and that one of the main topics of Obama’s talks with Abdullah will be how to empower the moderate opposition to counter Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and isolate extremist groups.
Riyadh hopes that by strengthening the rebels, they can change the balance of power on the battlefield enough to make Assad’s main foreign backers more open to the idea of a political transition that involves a change of government.
The Kingdom is wary of the US overtures to Iran which might eventually lead to a deal that ends sanctions on Tehran in exchange for concessions on its atomic facilities. Riyadh fears such a deal could come at the expense of the Arabs in the Middle East, some of whom fear that Iran will take advantage of any reduction in international pressure to spread its influence by supporting co-religionists.
An editorial in Al-Riyadh newspaper on Friday said Obama did not know Iran as well as the Saudis, and could not “convince us that Iran will be peaceful”.
“Our security comes first and no one can argue with us about it,” it concluded.