Time:5:07 p.m. CEST
President Barack Obama started his official visit to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday with a one-on-one meeting with King Salman in Riyadh, the Associated Press reports.
“The American people send their greetings and we are very grateful for your hospitality, not just for this meeting but for hosting the GCC-U.S. summit that’s taking place tomorrow,” Obama said, referring to the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council summit, the AP reports.
“The feeling is mutual between us and the American people,” the king said through a translator.
The president was slated to spend little more than 24 hours in the Saudi capital before heading on to visits to London and Hannover, Germany.
In addition to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain are participating in the regional summit, which the White House said would focus on regional stability, counterterrorism including the fight against the Islamic State and al-Qaida, and Iran. Talks are also expected to address the Saudi-led military campaign against Shiite rebels and their allies in neighboring Yemen.
Stepping off of Air Force One earlier at King Khalid International Airport, Obama was greeted not by King Salman but by a lower-ranking royal, Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud, the governor of Riyadh. Ahead of Obama’s arrival, Saudi state television showed the king personally greeting senior officials from other Gulf nations arriving at the King Salman Air Base. Mustafa Alani, a security analyst at the Gulf Research Center, said the Saudi decision not to dispatch a high-level delegation to greet the president was unusual and intended to send a clear message that they have little faith in him.
U.S. officials have expressed hope the latest meeting will build on last year’s Camp David summit, though they acknowledge differences remain between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Obama’s recent comment that the Saudis and Iranians should “share the neighborhood” roiled officials in Riyadh.
Ahead of Obama’s trip, a group of U.S. senators called on the president to press Saudi Arabia on human rights issues and raise the cases of two imprisoned advocates, blogger Raif Badawi and a man who defended him, rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair. In early January, Saudi Arabia put 47 people to death including a prominent Shiite cleric in its largest mass execution in years, triggering an angry reaction in Iran.
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s defense minister, said ahead of Obama’s visit that the Gulf and the U.S. must work together to confront challenges including terrorism, instability and what he described as Iranian interference into regional countries’ affairs.
Original report source: The Associated Press