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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Washington wants ‘strong’ Saudi Arabia: Mattis

The US defence secretary, meeting top officials in Riyadh, hinted that president Donald Trump could visit the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman, right, meets with US defence secretary James Mattis in Riyadh on April 19, 2017. Jonathan Ernst / Pool photo via AP
Saudi Arabia's King Salman, right, meets with US defence secretary James Mattis in Riyadh on April 19, 2017. Jonathan Ernst / Pool photo via AP

RIYADH // Washington wants to see a strong Saudi Arabia, US defence secretary Jim Mattis said during talks on Wednesday aimed at reinvigorating America’s alliance with Riyadh.

Mr Mattis, meeting top officials in the Saudi capital, also hinted that president Donald Trump could visit the kingdom, which has welcomed Washington’s firmer line against common adversary Iran.

“It is in our interest to see a strong Saudi Arabia,” Mr Mattis said at the start of talks with Saudi defence minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, pointing to the country’s “military security services and secret services”.

“What we can do here today could actually open the door possibly to bringing our president to Saudi Arabia,” the US defence minister said.

Mr Mattis, a retired four-star marine general who commanded troops during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, had earlier met King Salman at Al Yamama Palace in Riyadh. He told the monarch: “It’s good to be back.”

The US defence secretary arrived in the kingdom on Tuesday afternoon to listen to Saudi leaders and learn “what are their priorities”, an American defence official said earlier.

The US and Saudi Arabia have a decades-old relationship, but ties between Riyadh and Washington became increasingly frayed during the administration of president Barack Obama.

Saudi leaders felt Mr Obama was reluctant to get involved in the civil war in Syria and that Washington was tilting towards Iran.

The US defence official said the kingdom “felt marginalised” during international negotiations on a nuclear accord with Tehran.

The Saudis have found a more favourable ear in Washington under Mr Trump, who has denounced Iran’s “harmful influence” in the Middle East.

In February, Mr Trump imposed new sanctions on Tehran after a ballistic missile test launch, and in response to its support for Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

Prince Mohammed told Mr Mattis that Saudi Arabia and the US are working to counter challenges in the region, including “the malign activities of Iran” and to bring stability “to the most important straits.”

The US military is watching Houthi activities along the strategic Bab Al Mandab strait connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean.

In late January, the rebels attacked a Saudi warship in the Red Sea, and they are also believed to have fired missiles towards US warships in the area.

Washington accuses the rebels of deploying coastal defence missiles and other weapons which threaten free navigation in the waters that are vital to global trade.

* Agence France-Presse

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