Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 31 March 2020

Trump’s Saudi visit sends ‘clear and powerful message’

Saudi foreign minister says US president's first foreign visit since taking office will "change the conversation with regards to America’s relationship with the Arab and Islamic world”.
Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson in Washington on May 2, 2017. Michael Reynolds / EPA
Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson in Washington on May 2, 2017. Michael Reynolds / EPA

WASHINGTON // The US president Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia will enhance cooperation between the United States and Muslim countries in the fight against extremism, the kingdom’s foreign minister said.

Describing the visit as historic, Adel Al Jubeir said Mr Trump’s time in Saudi Arabia would include a bilateral summit, a meeting with Arab Gulf leaders and another with leaders of Arab and Muslim countries.

“It’s a clear and powerful message that the US harbours no ill will” toward the Arab and Muslim world, he said.

“It also lays to rest the notion that America is anti-Muslim. It’s a very clear message to the world that the US and the Arab Muslim countries can form a partnership,” Mr Al Jubeir said.

“It will lead to, we believe, enhanced cooperation between the US and Arab and Islamic countries in combating terrorism and extremism, and it will change the conversation with regards to America’s relationship with the Arab and Islamic world.”

The White House announced on Thursday that Saudi Arabia would be Mr Trump’s first stop on his first international trip as president later this month.

The move signifies the new administration’s intent to reinforce a relationship with a top ally in the Middle East, and follows a meeting between Mr Trump and Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House in March that Riyadh described as a “historical turning point” in US-Saudi ties.

The United States is leading an international coalition against ISIL of which Saudi Arabia is a member, and both countries have voiced concern about Iranian attempts to expand its influence in the Middle East.

Mr Al Jubeir praised the Trump administration’s tougher stance against Iran.

“I don’t think this administration is about rhetoric. I think the administration has taken firm steps in terms of making it clearer to Iran that its behaviour has to change.”

Riyadh and Washington had a testier relationship under former Democratic president Barack Obama’s administration, which Saudi Arabia felt placed less importance on the Saudi-US relationship than on securing a nuclear deal with Iran.

Mr Al Jubeir said the Trump administration had taken steps to advance the sale of precision-guided munitions, which had been suspended by the previous US administration over concerns about civilian casualties in the conflict in Yemen.

“The administration has released them and they’re in the process now of working on the notification to the US Congress,” he said.

The sale is expected to include more than $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) worth of the munitions made by Raytheon, people familiar with the talks have said, including armour-piercing Penetrator warheads and Paveway laser-guided bombs.

A US administration official said the proposed sale was “undergoing inter-agency review”.

A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict in Yemen in 2015 to restore the internationally recognised government, which was forced to flee the capital by Iran-backed Houthi rebels and allied forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Mr Al Jubeir also said Mr Trump had a high probability of securing a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr Trump has vowed to do “whatever is necessary” to broker such a peace, a feat successive US presidents have failed to achieve.

Mr Al Jubeir said traditional diplomacy had failed in brokering peace and that therefore a “fresh approach” by Mr Trump, who had never held public office before becoming president, could have a high chance of succeeding.

Mr Trump has faced deep scepticism at home and abroad over the prospects of him making any quick breakthrough, not least because his administration has yet to articulate a cohesive strategy for restarting the moribund peace process.

“I believe that, given his creative thinking and given his unconventional approach to this conflict, the probability that he can succeed is very high,” Mr Al Jubeir said.

“We are committed to doing everything we can in order to achieve peace between the Israelis and Palestinians based on the Arab peace initiative and a solution that involves two states.”

Mr Trump has stopped short of recommitting his administration to a two-state solution, a long-standing foundation of US policy.

* Reuters

Updated: May 6, 2017 04:00 AM

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