Saudi Arabia is happy with US president Barack Obama’s assurances that the recent nuclear deal with Iran will not imperil the Gulf states and believes the agreement will contribute to security and stability in the Middle East.
Saudi King Salman met with Obama at the White House on Friday to seek more support in countering Iran, as the Obama administration aimed to use the visit to shore up relations after a period of tensions.
The visit is the king’s first to the United States since ascending to the throne in January 2015, and comes after the United States agreed to a nuclear deal with Iran in July.
The U.S.-Saudi relationship has suffered strain because of what Riyadh sees as Obama’s withdrawal from the region, a lack of direct U.S. action against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and a perceived U.S. tilt towards Iran since the 2011 Arab uprisings.
But the countries share many strategic objectives and depend on each other on a number of core security, economic, and political issues.
Gulf Arab states had previously expressed their support for the Iran nuclear deal, but fear that the lifting of sanctions on Iran would enable it to pursue destabilizing policies in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia is supporting Syrian rebels fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Salman is likely to press Obama on the US’ stated goal of achieving a managed political transition in Syria.
So far, Obama’s military engagement in Syria has been limited to targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), stopping short of challenging Assad who has Iran’s backing.
High on King Salman’s agenda was winning increased US logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, the success of which will be vital to cementing the new king’s position in the region and base of support at home.
The Saudis have called for an end to the rebellion in Yemen by the Iran-backed Houthis and have led a major campaign of intervention with backing from Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, and Bahrain. Saudi-backed forces are preparing to recapture the rebel-held capital of Sanaa, a city of two million.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are opposed on a number of regional issues, especially the 4 1/2-year-long Syrian civil war and unrest in Yemen, where a coalition of Arab states led by Riyadh, assisted by the United States, are targeting Iran-allied Houthi forces.
A Saudi-led coalition has been conducting air strikes across Yemen against Iranian-allied Houthi forces since March, pushing back Houthi forces but drawing criticism from international aid and rights groups for a mounting civilian death toll.