WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will meet one-on-one with Saudi Arabia’s new monarch, King Salman, in Washington next week as the two allies struggle to reduce turmoil across the Middle East.
The White House says the two will talk Wednesday before Obama welcomes other heads of Gulf Cooperation Council countries for meetings at the White House and Camp David.
Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the fighting in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposing sides, are key topics. The Saudis have announced a unilateral cease-fire in Yemen, to start Tuesday, as a “humanitarian pause” to allow food and other aid to reach Yemeni civilians.
Obama says the Mideast situation will grow worse if negotiations to rein in Iran’s nuclear program fail.
Earlier this week, by contrast, the White House said that Obama did not intend to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the near future. Netanyahu is a key opponent of the Iran deal who holds concerns similar to those of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. The president also reportedly told Jewish leaders recently that he would not host the prime minister before the June 30 deadline for the Iran deal.
That decision is a testament to the increasingly strained between the two as a result of the Netanyahu’s outspoken criticism of the ongoing US-led nuclear negotiations with Iran.
In a business-like statement released by the White House Thursday, Obama congratulated Netanyahu on the formation of a governing coalition.
Immediately after the March 17 election, Obama administration officials had said they were “reevaluating” how best to pursue peace and defend Israel in international forums because of Netanyahu’s apparent retreat on the eve of balloting from embracing the two-state solution. Netanyahu told an Israeli website that he did not intend to preside over the establishment of a Palestinian state.
While Netanyahu said after the election that he did support a peaceful, “sustainable” two-state solution, administration officials made it clear that they were waiting to see if the new coalition would be willing to pursue a peace plan that included a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Unmoved by Netanyahu’s backtrack, Obama himself said that he took the prime minister “at his word.”