Obama in Saudi Arabia on rapprochement mission | News | DW | 20.04.2016
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Obama in Saudi Arabia on rapprochement mission

Barack Obama has gone to the Gulf after weeks of tense back and forth with the Saudi government. The longstanding allies' relations have soured over the Iran nuclear deal and controversial legislation about September 11.

US President Barack Obama was in Riyadh on Wednesday as part of a two-day trip to smooth over recent tensions with the strategic US ally. On what is likely to be his last trip to Saudi Arabia while in office, Obama held "alliance-building" talks with King Salman amid Saudi disapproval of what Riyadh sees as Washington cozying up to Tehran.

"I and the Saudi people are very pleased that you Mr. President are visiting us," Salman said.

"The American people send their greetings and we are very grateful for your hospitality, not just for this meeting but for hosting the GCC-US summit that's taking place tomorrow," Obama replied, referencing the Gulf Cooperation Council summit set to kick off on Thursday.

The Saudi monarch greeted Obama in the grand foyer of Erga Palace, where the two exchanged greetings and posed briefly for photographs before heading into their closed-door meeting focused on regional security issues, such as ending the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Iran deal irks Riyadh

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states have made it known that they do not appreciate the US moving slightly closer to Iran following a landmark nuclear deal between the country and other world powers sealed last year. Long at odds with Shiite Iran, Riyadh and Iran are fighting a proxy war on multiple fronts - most notably in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia's military leads a coalition attacking Houthi rebel forces with backing from Iran.

In the weeks leading up to the meeting, Obama has held firm on his dedication to the nuclear deal - saying the Saudis must learn to "share" the Middle East with Iranians in comments published in the April edition of The Atlantic magazine. The statements were met with ire by the Saudi media, with one commentator condemning "the United States' disengagement from assisting in resolving the region's problems."

Draft bill on 9/11 could hold Saudis responsible

The relationship has further soured over a bill currently of the floor of the Congress which would allow the Saudi government to be sued in US courts over the September 11 attacks in 2001. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the attacks perpetrated on that day were Saudi nationals, while Osama bin Laden, whose estranged family is closely tied to the Saudi royals, was the alleged mastermind.

Following his whirlwind trip to absolute monarchy, Obama is scheduled to visit Hanover, Germany and London in the coming days. On top of visiting Germany's largest trade fair, the president will meet informally with the leaders of France, Germany, Britain and Italy to discuss issues such as the migrant crisis and terrorism.

es/msh (AP, AFP)

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