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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Saudi delegation's US trip goes ahead despite snowstorm

Prince Mohammed expected to meet with congressional leaders and have dinner with US Vice President

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince listens during a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Kevin Dietsch / Pool via Bloomberg
Saudi Arabia Crown Prince listens during a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Kevin Dietsch / Pool via Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman began meetings with top US officials and congressional leaders in Washington on Wednesday, despite a snowstorm bringing the city to a standstill.

Having met with President Donald Trump 24 hours earlier to discuss Saudi-US ties, the kingdom's crown prince was expected to hold talks with major editorial boards, congressional leaders from both parties and attend a dinner at the Vice President Mike Pence’s residence.

Cultural events scheduled for his visit were also expected to go ahead despite the severe weather, which forced the federal government and schools to shut down.

The Middle East Institute and Saudi’s MiSK foundation continued with plans for a major art event at the Kennedy Center in Washington featuring Saudi artists, singers and performers. “The show is still on despite the snow!”, the hosts tweeted. Tickets were near sold out few hours before the opening.

The third day of the visit saw more focus on regional issues. Following meetings with Senators Dan Sullivan, Tom Cotton, Joe Manchin, and Lindsay Graham late on Tuesday, Prince Mohammed was expected to see Congressional leaders on Wednesday.

A readout from the Saudi embassy said meetings with Congress “emphasised the importance of communicating directly and openly with our partners.”

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During these sessions, the crown prince discussed “cooperative efforts to countering terrorism and extremism, the threat of Iran, the need to support the Yemeni people by putting pressure on the Iran-backed Houthi militias to end the conflict”.

The Senate voted 55-44 on Tuesday to block a resolution that would have limited US role and support in Yemen’s war.

The two sides also discussed Vision 2030 and the Kingdom’s drive for economic diversification.

Both the Iran nuclear deal and regional coordination was expected to top the agenda at the vice president’s dinner.

Mr Pence said earlier in the month that the US would withdraw from the deal if no fixes were made in the negotiations with the Europeans. Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir told reporters ahead of the meetings that the deal is “flawed” and while it’s America’s “sovereign decision” to stay in or leave the agreement, Riyadh is looking for fixes in three areas: the sunset clause, ballistic missile threat and Iran’s regional behaviour.

Mr Pence was also expected to follow up on his trip to the region where he visited Jordan, Egypt and Israel and discuss ways to foster inter-religious dialogue. The Saudi Crown Prince has met the Coptic Pope during his recent visit to Cairo, and was the first to host the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon in the kingdom last year.

Ahead of meeting Mr Pence, the Saudi Crown Prince hosted a dinner on Tuesday with Mr Trump’s Senior advisor and son in law Jared Kushner, the US envoy to the Middle East, and Jason Greenblatt, assistant to the president and Special Representative for International Negotiations.

The discussion “focused on the shared interests of both countries for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” said the Saudi embassy.

The Trump administration is preparing to present its own plan and is seeking regional support.

Mr Jubeir said that Riyadh would give candid advice to its American counterparts on this issue and it would be up to them to take it or leave it.

The Crown Prince's meeting with Donald Trump also tackled Yemen and "the threat the Houthis pose to the region, assisted by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps," said the White House.

Leaders "discussed additional steps to address the humanitarian situation and agreed that a political resolution to the conflict is ultimately necessary to meet the needs of the Yemeni people."