Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and U.S. President Barack Obama tackled a range of sensitive regional issues Tuesday during Obama’s one-day visit to Riyadh, as the Saudi monarch highlighted his country’s stance that Iran should not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.
The two leaders touched on the volatile situation in Saudi Arabia’s neighbor Yemen, where Shiite Houthi rebels have launched a power grab, as well as the thorny negotiations between Iran and the West over a nuclear program that Iran insists is for civilian and not military purposes.
King Salman expressed “no reservations” about the ongoing talks but added that Riyadh was adamant that Iran not be allowed to build a nuclear bomb, an administration official said.
The two leaders also touched on stability in the oil market and the king expressed a message of continuity on Saudi energy policy in their talks, the official said.
The talks were attended by Crown Prince Muqrin and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, along with several high-ranking Saudi officials, while Obama was joined by a high-powered delegation that included former secretaries of state and a Republican critic of the administration’s Middle East policy.
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One after Obama departed Saudi Arabia, the official said the two men did not discuss current oil prices. He said the king suggested Saudi Arabia would continue to play its role within the global energy market and that one should not expect a change in the country’s position.
During his brief stop in Riyadh Obama held his first formal meeting with King Salman, newly installed on the throne following the death of the 90-year-old King Abdullah Friday.
The roughly hourlong meeting focused on a bevy of Mideast security issues – sectarian divisions in Iraq, the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS, the precarious situation in Yemen and support for Syrian opposition fighting President Bashar Assad, said the U.S. official who briefed reporters traveling with Obama on condition of anonymity, citing the private nature of the talks.
Stepping off the plane earlier in Riyadh, the president and first lady Michelle Obama were greeted by Salman and a military band playing both countries’ national anthems.
Some of the all-male Saudi delegation shook hands with Mrs. Obama while others gave her a nod as they passed by.
Salman formally greeted Obama and the U.S. delegation at the Erga Palace on the outskirts of Riyadh, where dozens of Saudi officials filed through a marble-walled room to greet the Americans under massive crystal chandeliers.
Then they sat for a three-course dinner of grilled meats, baked lobster and Arabic and French deserts.
Obama cut short his trip to India to spend just a few hours in Riyadh. Further underscoring Saudi Arabia’s key role in U.S. foreign policy was the extensive delegation that joined Obama for the visit.
Secretary of State John Kerry joined Obama in Riyadh, along with former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and James Baker III, both of whom served Republican presidents.
Former White House national security advisers Brent Scowcroft, Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley also made the trip, as did Sen. John McCain, a frequent critic of Obama’s Middle East policy.
CIA Director John Brennan and Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, which overseas military activity in the Middle East, also took part in the meetings with the Saudis.
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have worked in close coordination to address evolving security concerns in the tumultuous region. Most recently, Saudi Arabia became one of a handful of Arab nations that have joined the U.S. in launching airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Yet Obama’s presidency has also been marked by occasional strains with the Saudi royal family, particularly as Abdullah had pressed the U.S. to take more aggressive action to force Assad from power.
In his initial days on the throne, the 79-year-old Salman has given little indication that he plans to bring fundamental changes to his country’s policies. He’s vowed to hew to “the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment.”