President Barack Obama will visit the Saudi Arabian king in March to help repair the incongruous U.S.-Saudi alliance, which has been upended since 2009 by Obama’s outreach to the kingdom’s mortal enemies in Iran and in the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood.
The White House downplayed the dramatic visit, which comes as the Saudis debate how they should counter Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.
“As part of regular consultations between our two countries, President Obama will travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in March 2014 to meet with His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud,” said a Feb. 3 statement.
“The President looks forward to discussing with King Abdullah the enduring and strategic ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia as well as ongoing cooperation to advance a range of common interests related to Gulf and regional security,” said the statement.
The issues include the “peace in the Middle East, countering violent extremism, and other issues of prosperity and security,” the statement said.
The phrase, “peace in the Middle East,” likely refers to the brutal Sunni-Shia civil war in Syria, the Arab hostility to Israel and the Brotherhood’s attacks on Egypt’s new military government. In the Syria war, Saudi Arabia is supporting Sunni rebels who are attacking the government, which is backed by Iran’s Shia-led government.
That conflict is sharpening the long-standing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is pushing ahead with plans to build up its nuclear infrastructure.
Saudi Arabia is also financially supporting the new Egyptian government, which deposed the radical Muslim Brotherhood government last summer. Obama and his aides have repeatedly urged the military government to hold another election, which would give the radical brotherhood a chance to regain power. When it was in power, Obama provided some support to the Brotherhood government.
The phrase, “countering violent extremism,” refers to Al Qaida’s jihad attacks. That’s a very sensitive issue, because Al Qaida gets many donations and volunteers from the country, and also is dedicated to overthrowing its government.
In 2001, Al Qaida used Saudi jihadis when it attacked the Twin Towers and killed almost 3,000 Americans on 9/11.
In a recent New Yorker article, Obama downplayed the fundamental religious dispute between regional Muslim governments and Israel’s non-Muslim democracy.
“With respect to Israel, the interests of Israel in stability and security are actually very closely aligned with the interests of the Sunni states,” Obama said.
Obama also suggested that a U.S.-Iranian deal could reduce the rivalry and fighting between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“It would be profoundly in the interest of citizens throughout the region if Sunnis and Shias weren’t intent on killing each other,” Obama told the New Yorker.
“And although it would not solve the entire problem, if we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion—not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon—you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare,” he said.