WASHINGTON ” Hosting Saudi Arabia’s new monarch for the first time, President Barack Obama said on Friday that the US shares King Salman’s desire for an inclusive government in Yemen that can relieve that impoverished Arab country’s humanitarian crisis. Their talks also addressed the Iran nuclear deal, a source of lingering tension in the US-Saudi relationship.
“We share concerns about Yemen and the need to restore a function government that is inclusive and that can relieve the humanitarian situation there,” Obama told reporters who were allowed into the Oval Office for brief comments from both leaders. The meeting, Obama noted, was taking place at a “challenging time in world affairs, particularly in the Middle East.”
The visit of King Salman, who ascended the throne in January, is forcing the administration to address these concerns. Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that the U.S was working with its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf on a ballistic missile defense system, special operations training and large-scale military exercises.
The Iran nuclear deal will provide Iran hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions in exchange for a decade of constraints on the country’s nuclear program. Congress will soon consider a resolution of disapproval of the final package reached in July, but Senate Democrats have enough votes to prevent the Republican-led measure’s success.
At a news conference at the Saudi Embassy, foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir said his government endorses the Iran nuclear deal, having been assured by Obama that it will block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.
Al-Jubeir also said Salman and Obama discussed a plan to improve American military cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, announced after a Camp David summit in May that Salman declined to attend.
In contrast to Al-Jubeir’s portrayal of U.S.-Saudi relations, Saudi officials in Riyadh said the kingdom is displeased with the Iran deal and looking to expand its alliances beyond the U.S.
The Saudi officials said the king sought a written agreement from Obama stating that the U.S. is “prepared to defend against any attempt that threatens the security” of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a coalition of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
The officials say Obama has been hesitant to follow through because the agreement implicitly refers to Gulf concerns about Iran, and the Saudis feel Washington is unwilling to make such a commitment due to its rapprochement with Iran. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
King Salman, in brief remarks through an interpreter, characterized his visit as symbolic of the deep ties between the allies.
“I’m happy to come to a friendly country to meet a friend,” he said. “We want to work together for world peace.”