Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

DEBATE

How to Stop Ebola: WHO Says Cases Could Exceed 20,000

Read more

DEBATE

US-Africa summit: Obama unveils $33 billion US investment plan for Africa

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Canada and Russia exchange snarky Tweets

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Socialist Party summer conference kicks off in an explosive atmosphere

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

The deleted tweets of Manuel Valls

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Google rivals Amazon with delivery drone tests

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Ebola in Nigeria: First death outside of Lagos

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Niger : Top Oppostion figure to be questioned in baby trafficking scandal

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Liberia: President dismisses top officials who ignored call back

Read more

  • France shines in IMF list of world’s promising economists

    Read more

  • West backs Ukrainian claims of Russian incursion

    Read more

  • Obama has 'no strategy yet' on potential Syria strikes

    Read more

  • Mapping Ukraine: Canada and Russia in ‘tweet for tat’ row

    Read more

  • French businesses ‘hoping for a new Thatcher’

    Read more

  • Syrian refugees surpass 3 million, UN says

    Read more

  • Libyan PM resigns as Islamists set up rival administration

    Read more

  • UN says 43 peacekeepers captured in Golan Heights

    Read more

  • The deleted tweets of Manuel Valls

    Read more

  • Peru seizes record 6.5 tonnes of Europe-bound cocaine

    Read more

  • Pakistan army to mediate between PM, protesters

    Read more

  • PSG face Barcelona, Ajax in tough Champions League draw

    Read more

  • In pictures: Billions of locusts invade Madagascan capital

    Read more

  • Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie say ‘I do’ in France

    Read more

  • Erdogan sworn in as Turkey's president

    Read more

  • Assad cannot be partner in fight against terrorism, says Hollande

    Read more

  • New Ebola case in Nigeria brings death toll to 1,552

    Read more

  • Video: 'Neither Baghdad nor the US can defeat the Islamic State'

    Read more

  • Platini will not run against Blatter for FIFA presidency

    Read more

Middle east

US-Saudi interests remain 'aligned', Obama tells King Abdullah

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-28

US President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah discussed the "tactical differences" in their approach to regional issues but agreed to remain strategically "aligned", a senior US official said after talks Friday at a royal estate outside Riyadh.

Obama arrived for talks with King Abdullah on a diplomatic visit aimed at smoothing relations increasingly strained by entrenched policy differences, notably over the unrest in Syria and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The US official said the two leaders had spoken frankly about their "tactical differences" in their countries' approaches to some regional issues.

Obama told the king that "he believes that our strategic interests remain very much aligned" with those of Saudi Arabia, the official told reporters.

Saudi Arabia has had strong reservations about efforts spearheaded by Washington and other world powers to negotiate a deal with Iran on its nuclear programme.

It was also disappointed by Obama's decision last year not to take military action against the Syrian regime over chemical weapons attacks, despite previous warnings that the use of such weapons would constitute a "red line" that would not be tolerated.

A White House official said ahead of the Riyadh meeting that a key talking point would be how to aid Syria's opposition, a shift in focus that he said has helped improve US-Saudi ties.

The two leaders will look at ways to "empower the moderate opposition inside of Syria politically, militarily, as a counterweight to [President Bashar al-] Assad," Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters aboard Air Force One.

"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.

Stumbling block: Iran

Saudi analyst Abdel Aziz al-Sagr, who heads the Gulf Research Centre, emphasised that Saudi-US relations have become "tense due to Washington's stances" on issues in the Middle East, but especially on Iran.

Saudi Arabia, the largest power in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), fears that a possible US withdrawal from the Middle East and a diplomatic overture towards Iran would further fuel Tehran's regional ambitions.

A recent rapprochement between Tehran and Washington "must not take place at the expense of relations with Riyadh", Sagr told AFP ahead of the talks.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, long wary of Shiite Iran's regional ambitions, views a deal struck last November between world powers and Iran over the latter's nuclear programme as a risky venture that could embolden Tehran's moves in the future.

The interim agreement curbs Iran's controversial nuclear activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief and is aimed at buying time to negotiate a comprehensive accord in the future.

Political analyst Khaled al-Dakhil of King Saud University spoke of the "major differences" Riyadh now has with Washington, adding that one of Obama's aims was to ease "Saudi fears on Iran and on regional security".

The Saudi-Iranian rivalry has crystallised with the Syrian conflict: Tehran backs President Assad's regime, while several GCC states support the opposition rebellion against him.

The trip is Obama's second to Saudi Arabia since being elected in 2009.

'A reassurance visit'

Obama's stance on the events reshaping the region "have strained (Saudi-US) relations but without causing a complete break", said Anwar Eshki, head of the Jeddah-based Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies.

US security and energy specialist professor Paul Sullivan said Obama's meeting with King Abdullah was aimed in part at assuaging Saudi concerns.

"However, I would be quite surprised if there were any major policy changes during this visit. This is also partly a reassurance visit," he added.

White House spokesman Jay Carney has said ahead of the talks that "whatever differences we may have do not alter the fact that this is a very important and close partnership".

Obama's visit comes months after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Riyadh last November in a bid to mend strained relations.

Riyadh has recently reached out to Asia, including China, in an apparent bid to shift its international relations focus.

Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz visited China, Pakistan, Japan and India this month, reportedly to strengthen ties.

The US-Saudi relationship dates to the end of World War II and was founded on an agreement for Washington to defend the Gulf state in exchange for oil contracts.

OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia is the world's top producer and exporter of oil.

Egypt has been another bone of contention since the 2011 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak, who was a staunch ally of both the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom was dismayed by the partial freezing of US aid to Egypt after the army toppled Islamist president Mohammed Morsi last July, a move that was hailed by Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia responded by sending $5 billion in aid to Egypt following Morsi's ouster.

'Systematic human rights violations'

Dozens of US lawmakers urged Obama ahead of the talks to address Saudi Arabia's "systematic human rights violations", including efforts by women activists to challenge its ban on female drivers.

Rights group Amnesty International said Obama "must break the US administration's silence on Saudi Arabia's human rights record by taking a strong public stand against the systematic violations in the kingdom".

"It is crucial that President Obama sends a strong message to the government of Saudi Arabia that its gross human rights violations and systematic discrimination are unacceptable," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"A failure to do so would undermine the human rights principles the USA purports to stand for," she said in a statement.

"Today, given the extent of time they spent on Iran and Syria, they didn't get to a number of issues, and it wasn't just human rights," the official said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-03-28

  • SAUDI ARABIA

    Kerry seeks to ease bilateral tensions on Saudi visit

    Read more

  • SAUDI ARABIA

    The Princess and the burqa, female driving and male guardians

    Read more

  • SAUDI ARABIA

    Saudi Arabia outlaws domestic abuse

    Read more

COMMENT(S)