x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Obama and Saudi king meet for talks on Middle East and Afghanistan

After their attendance at the G20 summit in Toronto, King Abdullah travelled to Washington, where talks focused on renewed efforts toward peace in the region.

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama yesterday hosted Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah for wide-ranging talks that covered the Middle East peace process, Iran's nuclear standoff with the west, the war in Afghanistan, and efforts to combat extremism. It was King Abdullah's first visit to the White House during Mr Obama's tenure and comes ahead of a visit next week by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two leaders met last year in Riyadh on the eve of Mr Obama's Cairo speech.

In brief remarks to reporters in the Oval Office, the two leaders underscored the strength of the decades-old US-Saudi alliance, which Mr Obama referred to as a "strong and strategic" relationship. King Abdullah said that the United States is friend of the Arab world and of "humanity" and he called Mr Obama an "honorable" and "good" man. "I don't say this in order to compliment you," he said. "I say this because this is the truth as I hear it from people around the world." The two leaders agreed on the need to move the peace process forward in a "significant and bold way", and on the importance of establishing a Palestinian state, Mr Obama said.

The show of unity comes despite some friction during Mr Obama's first year over how to proceed with the peace process. Saudi officials have urged Mr Obama to exert more pressure on Israel and were disappointed when the White House backed off its initial insistence that Israel halt all settlement activity. Mr Obama, meanwhile, has unsuccessfully sought to convince Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies - including the UAE - to make positive gestures toward Israel as a way to jolt the process forward. Saudi officials have pointed to substantial concessions made by Arab countries who signed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offers full recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel returning to its 1967 borders and agreeing to a "just settlement" to the issue of the Palestinian refugees.

Both leaders attended the G-20 Summit in Canada over the weekend. Mr Obama said their discussions at the White House also focused on ways the two countries "can work with our other partners around the world to keep the economic recovery going and to help bring about the strong economic growth that's necessary to put people back to work." @Email:sstanek@thenational.ae